Introducing Jason Halayko

An interview with the Japan-based sports photographer

Hello Jason! Tell us a bit about what you do

Currently I am a professional photographer focusing on action sports, events, portraits and lifestyle photography.

How did you become a photographer in Japan?

I first started my photographic journey in high school back in Victoria, Canada in 1995 or so. I took a class at my school and fell in love with the whole photographic process and experience. Fast forward a few years and I was now living in Japan working at Ristumeikan University in Kyoto, while still playing with photography when I could.

One day a Japanese friend of mine invited me to one of their freestyle motocross (FMX) events they were holding in Odaiba, so I decided to go and take some pictures of the event. At the event I was introduced to the editor of a Japanese motorcycle magazine who eventually used a few images from that event in the next issue! I was super happy, and had a great time shooting the event, so I started to make it a priority to travel to the various FMX events around Japan and document them as I could. Many of my photos were picked up by my friend's magazine, so it was always fun to see the images in print.

A few years later my editor friend is approached by Red Bull Japan to see if they knew anyone that could photograph an upcoming FMX event in Yokohama, and I was recommended. The event went well and Red Bull Japan liked my images, so from there I was shooting for them as they needed. Through their many events I was able to shoot everything from paper airplane contests, to massive world class FMX, breakdance, freestyle soccer, etc., events over the years. And through these events I have been able to befriend many of Japan's top action sports athletes who I have used in other work and personal projects over the years.

Who are some of your biggest clients?

My biggest client is Red Bull Japan (I have worked with them for about 12 years now) but have also shot for many other clients such as Sony, Nikon, Hasselblad, Reebok, G-Shock, Oakley, Lululemon, New Era, Jeep, and many many more.

What are some of the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?

In photography it is said that it is best to find a niche market and go super deep into it. Shoot only food, or only weddings, or if you are an action sports photographer you stick to one discipline, like skateboarding, or BMX. But shooting for a client like Red Bull that has so many different sponsored athletes in so many different disciplines you have to really become a jack of all trades. Maybe one day I will be shooting a local qualifier of an e-sports event, then the next weekend its a DJ competition, with a breakdance competition the next day. So I have to be very good at covering EVERYTHING. I need to know (or learn very quickly) the peak action points for each discipline, what is needed for each event, etc., all the while capturing images that, not only myself, but my client and the athletes involved fall in love with. For the first few years I found this quite challenging, but now I am quite comfortable with jumping into a new sports as I have developed my shooting style to be quite fluid and adaptive to the needs at hand. Still, some days are easier than others.

I think the most rewarding part of my job is seeing the smiles on the athletes faces when they see the images. I love when they get excited and give me a big high five or fist bump of appreciation. Also seeing your images used both domestically in Japan and around the world is amazing as well! I love seeing my images in use and it's always exciting no matter how big or small the image in use is.

What appeals to you about the sports you work with?

I think what I like about the sports I take is they are almost all individual sports. I take very few team sports photos, and I love to see the different style that each person brings to their sport. Action sports like skateboarding, breakdancing, BMX, parkour, all have a lot of room for the athletes to put in their own personal flair, to really make each trick and performance unique and special just for them. Sure there are some super stars who do this in team sports, but its usually the exception and not the rule. In any action sports its actually looked down upon to just do the same moves as everyone else, but doing something new or unique is highly praised. This leads to quick progression in the sports and makes it always interesting to shoot and watch.

Also, many of the athletes are literally putting their health and lives on the line when they perform. It can be scary sometimes watching my friends perform insane tricks for my camera, but I have massive respect for them and their skills. I think this dance with danger by the individual is something I find exciting and I really want to help showcase those moments and sports in the best way I can.

With the Urban Sports Park, and the addition of sportclimbing and BMX freestyle to the event lineup, do you think the Olympics will have a big impact on these sports?

There is already a big impact on these sports from their inclusion into the Olympics. You can already see many major companies wanting to partner with these athletes, wanting to sponsor them, and wanting to use them in their ads. This not only gets the general public more aware of these sports at a core level, it also brings more income into the athletes and allows them to take the needed steps to improve their performance. In the past action sports athletes in Japan generally did not make a lot of money (compared to other countries like the USA) but more and more athletes are now able to live and strive off of their performances. I really hope this continues to grow here in Japan, to a point where younger athletes can look up to top Japanese athletes and see that its possible to make a career out of their sport.

As far as the future of sports in Japan...as more and more Japanese action sports athletes become famous not only in Japan but around the world as well I hope we see an increase in youth who want to also pursue these sports. Unfortunately, Japanese youth culture can be quite trendy, so what is popular now because of the Olympics may not remain popular once they have come and gone. It will be interesting to see what happens for sure. Either way I hope I can continue to be a part of action sports in Japan for many years to come.

What are some of your essential travel recommendations?

Always get to the airport way earlier than you need to (haha). Sitting and enjoying a coffee at the terminal for an hour is much more fun than missing your flight. As a photographer I do a lot of traveling, and a lot of waiting. There is lots of down time so having a book to read is something I always do. Also, I always take my iPad so I can play games or draw out ideas and that. Always take what you can't live without in your carry on. It is easier to check everything, but if my checked bags go missing its easy to buy extra clothes quickly, not so easy to buy needed memory cards, external drives, and other small items you made think you don't need to carry on. No matter what happens I still need to be able to do my job when I land so I always make sure that I carry on everything I would need to work with me.

Do you have any advice for budding action photographers?

Get out and shoot! Don't be scared, just get out and do it. Everyone sucks when you start out, you only get better by doing it over and over and over again. This is something I have learned from watching people like Yuki Kadono and Rim Nakamura since they were 11 or 12 years old. They were OK back then, but they are world class now, because they got out and put in the work, day in and day out.

As people around the world choose to self-isolate, how have you been spending your time? Are you working on anything special?

I was actually still working up until April, but seem to have this month pretty much 100% off. I just had a child in January so I am actually quite enjoying this down time at home watching him grow. His smile just melts my heart.

Saying that, at the start of this year I began a new YouTube channel called Jason Halayko Photography and I am having fun making various types of photography related videos at home at the moment. I love teaching and am getting nice feedback from my starting videos, and its fun to learn something new. Even when things "get back to normal" I am sure I will keep up with the YouTube videos!