Behind the Lens - Hoshi Yoshida

Jul 18, 2017
by Pinkbike Staff  

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m coming to the end of my thirties now. I was born in Japan and grew up in Germany. I live in Freiburg, close to the border with France and Switzerland. From my home, I can see the Black Forest, from my favorite trails I can see the French Vosges mountains and from my local ski slopes I can see the high Alpes. I run the design office WHYEX with a team of 10 people, photographers, graphic designers, industrial designers and a couple of trainees. We are a group of bike enthusiasts and one of the reasons our clients choose us is this passion for cycling which strongly influences our work. My work is not 100% photography in the sense of holding the camera all the time, but photography has been and still is the key ingredient of my graphic design. I like dynamic and living images, which convey the preciousness of the decisive moment. I dislike HDR and other make-up tricks which distract from the absoluteness of the photographic composition based on light and shade.

How long have you been shooting photos and what was your first camera?

I started shooting in 2001. My first DSLR was the Canon D30. It was also my first professional camera. It was quite an investment for me back in the day and I knew I had to shoot at least above average photos not to starve.

How long have you been shooting mountain biking?

Since the beginning of 2001. My first gig was the MTB World Cup in Arai, Japan. I recently found my media accreditation badge.

My first accreditation badge is from ARAI MTB World Cup 2001

Do you shoot anything else besides mountain biking?

My main clients are brands from the bike industry. I shoot factory and manufacturing photos as well as product photos for catalogs. Even though it’s about MTB, it’s a totally different world. It is rather a kind of man and machine photography if you shoot CNC tapping centers, magnesium casting machines and also craftsmanship like welding, painting, and assembling.

Although the scenery is totally different you use the same skills as you need for action shots. I always shoot during running productions, I let the workers do their job and allow them to ignore my presence. This way you’re shooting real life, unique moments and a very authentic production. I like fugitive moments and I like shooting on the run, no staging, no repetitions.

At the end of the racing season, I used to keep my cameras untouched for a few weeks over the winter. But at some point, my passion for backcountry snowboarding showed up in the business of photography. Even though I try to keep my time in the snow to myself, I couldn’t turn down requests from some magazines, brands, and resorts to join ski trips as a photographer. It’s tough to make time for oneself but in the end, any kind of photo shooting keeps your senses fresh. I won’t even reject wedding photography but those who ask me must know: I like dirt and action.

My off season activity is not shooting but sometimes I trade photos with free travelling to professional backcountry skiing snow boarding trips.

Your work encompasses more than just photography. What else do you do?

My origin is industrial design and graphic design. I consider photography as the missing link in the brand communication. A unique product needs a unique way of presentation, which means unique photos, elaborated angles, special lighting and a corresponding graphic layout. I discovered photography as an element to influence graphic design and vice versa. I take pictures with an idea how to use it in a graphic context. Pictures can create a brand identity and photography is a key element of marketing. That’s what I learned in my early days on world cup trips with the Nicolai team. Race results regardless whether they were bad or good were forgotten before the next race at the latest. A good image can make it into magazines or catalogs and will remain in the memory for a long time. Photography became mandatory to justify all the trips and races around the world. My main occupation meanwhile is managing the marketing of SrSuntour and photography helps me in many ways. It’s, on the one hand, a showcase to present all the unknown sides of SR Suntour to the people out there and on the other hand, it’s a mirror for the brand itself and the staff to learn about their own company and their own products being used in action.

Were you self-taught or have you had any formal training?

Self-taught sounds a bit arrogant. The only thing I’ve achieved on my own is countless failures. No, I was always lucky to meet people who opened my eyes, who told me their little secrets. I was lucky to get opportunities to practice and train my skills on trips around the world. Sometimes a new or different camera was the inducement to learn something new. When I started shooting analog black and white photos in 2007 I learned to see light and shade contrast patterns. I learned to translate spatial depth into “Chiaroscuro” light-dark compositions. When I started filming in 2010 I suddenly discovered many unknown moments within motion sequences I believed I knew as a photographer. I had to admit that a machine eye with 240 frames per second reveals moments a human eye is not able to capture.

Hard light and shadow contrast even emphasised by the dust gave me no other choice than shooting in black and white. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

The sun showed up for a couple of minutes only I was luck Benoit Coulanges came across showing his gearbox NICOLAI with GATES Carbondrive.

How did you move from amateur to professional photographer?

Honestly? I still like being an amateur, breaking academic rules, working without routine, constantly discovering new skills, being surprised at every new location and feeling like a greenhorn amongst the pro photographers.
The moment I picked up the camera for the first time to take a specific image I had in mind for my graphic design work I only knew how to switch on and to push the shutter button. The chances of shooting a useful photo at that moment were maybe 1/10.000. It was a hopeless but an indescribably exciting moment. If becoming professional means achieving a success rate of better than 1/10 and losing this excitement I would prefer to stay amateur and capture moments that come along once in a blue moon.

This kind of pan shot is not new. But using a LEICA M6 analog with manual focus and one single shot is a different story. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

Testing slow shutter to emphasise speed and the dynamic of the dust. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

Was there a point where you knew it was a job and not a hobby?

When I got paid for a photo that I personally didn’t like but showed the right people and the right sponsor logos. If hobby means shooting photos without a commercial target, here I am. My analog LEICA shots haven’t made one cent yet. A hobby can be closer than passion sometimes.

The real jump shot sucked with a shady football field in the background. The shadow on the wall reduces the image to what was essential at this moment the whip. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

You spent a number of years following the World Cup circuit. What’s it like shooting an important race? Do you still focus on racing?

Shooting World Cups is the ultimate training for photography skills. You learn how to work quickly and efficiently, to observe accurately, to have fast reactions, to anticipate, to be tough and tenacious (especially when the weather is not on your side).
Race photography trains your skills and your mental constitution as things only happen once with no repetition. Racing will always stay on my agenda even though I also shoot quite a lot of road trips as well as travel and catalog productions.

A little bank between the pits and the parking was used as a kicker for the best trick contest. Aaron Gwin trying to pull a whip. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

Needles took the jack pot with a heel clicker. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

What do you think makes your images unique?

This is something only other people can comment on.

You’re known for using a Leica to shoot analog images at events. What do you like about shooting on film?

I learned photography on a DSLR and I appreciate the digital technology. But I also see how easy it is to manipulate digital photos. Photos that were shot in an unsatisfactory way can be amended in post-production. Using my analog LEICA I wanted to go back to the purity of photography. I like the element of fate in photography. Once you hit the shutter the photo is done and there is nothing you can do to influence the result. Film especially black and white has a unique grainy structure. You understand that photography is a physical and a chemical process. The LEICA M6 has no electronic fuzz, no motor, no mirror. It’s all mechanic and that makes shooting so unbelievably silent and quick.

Early morning sun rises above the misty and dusty horizon. A colour photo would have been nice too. but my Leica was faster on hand. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

How would it be to shoot an event like the Red Bull Rampage with just one lense and one focal length Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

Is Cedric preaching with a bible in his hand Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

What other cameras do you use? What lenses? Is there any other gear that you use frequently?

My current workhorses are the Canon 1DX and the 5DsR with a range of lenses starting with an 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye, 24-70mm f/2.8L II, 70-200mm f/2.8L II and up to the 300mm f/2.8L II.
My LEICA M6 has only one lens, the Summilux with a 35mm fixed focal length and 1.4 aperture.

Who has influenced your work?

It’s easy to list some names but it’s harder to say what exactly has influenced my work. I was inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson. His work looks like divine orchestration, unbelievable coincidences, despite shooting fugitive moments. How alert must you be to capture such moments? Certainly not on the desperate search, scavenging for anything and everything but rather awake, conscious and with your instinct tuned into the world around you. Expectant.

Order and disorder parallelism and skew lines. The black and white shot is able to reduce this contradiction for a image composition. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

The 2009 YETI team with Sam Blenkinsop Aaron Gwin Jared Graves at the World Cup Pietermaritzburg South Africa. Aaron Gwin is checking his qualification results. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

Making blend beer of canadas best breweries. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux.

What advice would you pass on to aspiring photographers?

Know every corner of your viewfinder. Pay much more attention to the background than to the focus point. You see what you'll get but even things you don’t see will end up in your photo.

What photo are you most proud of? Why?

I can’t say I’m proud of my photos. For me, photography is a coincidence of space, time, and will. And there is a large element of chance. You’re lucky if you see the space and time aligned for a good shot. The question should be: Which photo are you most grateful for? I’m always happy to catch unexpected moments. Mick Hannah getting his hair cut. Or, discovering the number one number plate in the cut hole behind another number one number plate and Aaron Gwin hanging around by chance. I blew the finish line pan shot of Aaron Gwin’s winning run but my shot practicing on Blenki made it into the international media. Countless moments of fate and chance.

Mick Hannah getting his hair cut. Shot with LEICA M6 35mm f 1.4 Summilux

The number one number plate in the cut hole behind and Gwins number one number plate and Aaron Gwin himself hanging around by chance.

I blew the finish line pan shot of Aaron Gwin s winning run. This one with Blenki was my practicing shot.

Who are some of the clients you’ve worked with?

My client from the beginning is the German frame manufacturer NICOLAI. They gave me the freedom to develop my view angle of industrial product photography. My biggest client now is the Japanese / Taiwanese suspension company SRSUNTOUR. They are encouraging me to use photography and graphic design as a tool to create and develop their brand identity.

Check the NICOLAI logo N in the tube shelf made of square tubes. NICOLAI frames consist of simple geomterical shapes. No fancy hydroforming just pure engineering.

Catalogue shooting for SRSUNTOUR during a road trip through BC. James Doerfling on a trail bike with half lid. Rare moments.

World Cup racer Benoit Coulanges going freeride on the Black hills.

Anything else we should know about you?

I don't think so, thanks for your patience to read the whole interview.

Past Photographer Interviews:


  • 28 0
 People like Hoshi are rare and are an inspiration to me. I hope we get to meet one day and share photos, and possibly a beer Keep using that Leica!
  • 13 0
 "For me, photography is a coincidence of space, time, and will. And there is a large element of chance. "

Especially the word "coincidence".
A great read. Thanks.
  • 6 0
 I had the opportunity to meet him during the 2016 edition of the Megavalanche, this interview describes exactly how he works. Somehow hiding but still here at the "good moment". A very inspirational character !
  • 5 0
 What a legend. Those pictures are unreal also - love the older pics of the WC pros, especially the one of Gwin and Blenki. Hoshi - Love your shots. Keep doing what you do.
  • 6 0
 "Self-taught sounds a bit arrogant. The only thing I’ve achieved on my own is countless failures. "
  • 5 0
 Such an interesting interview and perspective on things. I did not expect to be captivated. Good stuff pinkbike
  • 2 0
 One of the things I look forward to at Eurobike each year is getting a hard copy of the SR Suntour catalog. Hoshi and his team put together a catalog that is not just product but has great stories about riders and events and of course full of awesome images. It never skimps out on cheap paper either, always top notch quality. For those not fortunate enough to get a hard copy the digital is still nice to look at.
  • 3 0
 I always imagine him being a little dragon in an 8bit world! Wonder why...
  • 1 0
 Always appreciated his work in the early Nicolai catalogs. If I recall correctly he also did the graphic design of those. Great work.
  • 3 0
 That shot of the tape in the woods gets me all tingly.
  • 2 0
 Awesome work. Keep film alive!
  • 3 1
 Yoshida your pants when you see how good his photos are.
  • 1 0
 Thank you for interviewing Hoshi, lots of fresh perspectives and responses that made you think.
  • 1 0
 We love Hoshi!!! An amazing person and photographer! A true legend!
  • 1 0
 Awesome content, PB. Thanks for the candid interview, Hoshi.
  • 1 0
 Wow. Just wow.
  • 1 0
 living legend!
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