This portrait of the maiko Manaha of Gion Kobu was made at my first photo session with her, in early November 2011.
I had never met Manaha before, but I had photographed her best friend, the maiko Mameharu, a few times already, including the week before this. I had asked Mameharu to tell Manaha about me in the hopes that things would go more smoothly.
After introducing ourselves and chatting for a while, I asked Manaha what her favorite dance was. She told me it was “Rokudan Kuzushi,” one of the first dances most maiko in Gion Kobu learn.
So, we began the afternoon with me photographing her performing the dance, and then we made some portraits in front of a green byobu (folding screen), which contrasted quite nicely with Manaha’s yellow kanzashi and orange kimono.
While I was making the portraits in front of the byobu, I was keeping one eye on how dark it was getting outside. There is no daylight savings time in Japan, so it starts to get dark a little after four p.m. in November, and by five p.m. it is quite dark.
As soon as I saw Manaha’s orange kimono and yellow kanzashi when I first met her, I knew I wanted to make some portraits against the darkening blue sky to highlight the autumn colors of her kimono and hair ornaments.
When I saw it was getting dark enough (at about 4:15 p.m.), I folded up the screen, asked Manaha to sit with her back to the veranda, and opened up the shoji (paper doors) that separate the interior and exterior of the ochaya.
I also turned off the flash of my strobe and lit Manaha only with the modeling light, which is a tungsten bulb. Tungsten bulbs have a much warmer color temperature than daylight, so by lighting Manaha with just the modeling light I could make the sky appear even bluer than it really was.
I timed things pretty well. The sky was darkening, but it wasn’t too dark yet. The light on Manaha and the light outside were just how I wanted them, and I made the portrait.
I called downstairs to the ochaya-san to let them know that we were ready for our drinks and snacks, turned off all the photography lights, and Manaha and I chatted for a while until she had to leave for her evening’s engagements.