Though Wataru Maruyama’s journey and exploration of photography is fairly new, his life’s journey has brought him from Japan, his birthplace, to California, his home. Having won the grand prize in the Leica Berlinspiration contest, he now has the opportunity to bring a glimpse of his California to Berlin. A billboard featuring Wataru’s photograph of Gilroy Gardens in Gilroy, California has gone up in three locations throughout Berlin this week. This is an unprecedented event for Leica, as it’s the first time user-generated content has been utilized for formal brand communications. And as you can imagine, a historic event for Wataru as a budding photographer. We had a chance to talk with Wataru about his passion for photography and how it feels to have his skills on display in Berlin.

Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, and art form, a profession?

A: Although I was a prolific photo taker since youth, I didn’t get serious about the craft until two years ago. I was taking hundreds of photos per month of my newborn son and that process ignited my passion to a whole new level.

Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?

A: Once I got bit hard by the bug, I read an enormous amount of books. I initially was influenced by the strobist movement, but have settled into more natural light photography. I’m most inspired by photojournalists who find ways to capture what is happening in extreme and pressure packed situations. “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson was critical in helping me understand the craft. Other influential books were “The Hot Shoe Diaries” by Joe McNally, “Minimalist Light: Professional Techniques for Studio Photography” by Kirk Tuck and Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographer. The photographer I admire the most is Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Q: What genre are your photos? (e.g. fine art, photojournalism, portrait, street photography, etc)

A: My two favorite genres are portraits and capturing personal family moments. I’ve been branching out recently to location/landscapes to explore outside my comfort zone. I work near Central Lake Park in Foster City, California so that’s the most accessible place to shoot during the week. I challenge myself by finding new things to shoot there. Any time I can visit Japan, my place of birth, I’m taking photos non-stop.

Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?

A: There’s so much visual and audio noise out there that it makes people tune out and ignore the world. Photography makes me pay attention and focus on the things that are wonderful, or not so wonderful, about life.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?

A: Part of my self-training involved picking up an Olympus OM-10 film camera and I fell in love with fast primes and manual focusing. That lead me to borrow and rent various Leica M cameras and glass. I knew, one day, I would upgrade to an M9. That time is still far away, but I did own and greatly enjoyed the Digilux 2. For now, I am very content with the D-Lux 5.

Q: What do you think of the D-Lux 5 so far?

A: I was surprised by how responsive the D-Lux 5 was. It’s very fast and I’ve never missed a shot waiting for it to start up. I was even more surprised by the quality of the JPEG files. I only shoot in RAW for formal portraits so my everyday camera needs to be able to give me great straight-out-of-camera JPEGs and the D-Lux 5 delivers. I’ve owned several Panasonic cameras and going RAW produced the only acceptable result. The files I’ve been getting from the D-Lux 5 have required little to no touching up in post. I’m very, very impressed.

Q: How does it feel to have your photo featured on a billboard in the middle of Berlin?

A: It’s extremely humbling and a great honor, especially for someone whose skills are still early in development.  I hope people who look at the billboard can experience a similar sense of peace and enjoyment that I felt when walking through Gilroy Gardens.

Q: What are your impressions of the city of Berlin?

A: It seems like an incredible place to visit or live. Based on the locations I looked up for the quiz, there is an exciting variety of sights and experiences in Berlin.

Since Wataru Maruyama lives in California, he is unable to see the billboards featuring his photo in person. He needs our help to see them! We are calling all Berlin residents and visitors to send us pictures of the billboards while they are up through Monday, December 27. See our Note on the Leica Camera Page on Facebook for the location of the billboards and instructions for submitting your photos. In January we’ll feature a virtual tour for Maruyama on our global website using your pictures.

-Leica Internet Team

If you would like to see more of Wataru’s work you can visit his website: