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A great photograph lasts forever, but we have been guilty of taking fancy cameras halfway around the world without knowing how they work. Travel consultant, Matt Evans and tour leader, Mike Reddy took to Tokyo’s neon streets with a photography expert to get beyond a point and click mentality.
Photography in Tokyo
Doubling as a guided tour and photography workshop, Tokyo by Night was a crash course in the basics of light-trail and street photography. After threading my way through Shinjuku, known as the busiest commuter hub in the world, it was surprisingly easy to find the four members of the group at our meeting point. Most of us had only just arrived in Tokyo and there was a real sense of excitement. After quick introductions it was time to get started; our teacher was eager to get us set up at our first position – a bridge over two roads converging into a busy carriageway.
As I had just upgraded my camera, it was unfamiliar, but the teacher walked me through important settings to capture sharp images. From our vantage point on a bridge, we took a long exposure photo of light trails from passing cars underneath, with a hint of office buildings as the backdrop.
While I might get a good picture or two, I was concerned that my grasp of the shooting modes and features would barely be enough to keep up, let alone make the best of this opportunity. I needn’t have worried; a few pointers were sufficient to get me past the basics to think about framing and composing the picture I wanted. I used a tripod to experiment with bolder angles and anticipate the movement of cars to paint light-trails.
To make it more visually appealing, we rotated the camera to work with lines to try and tell a story. The cars are coming into frame from the bottom right and heading off into the distance, while also revealing more of the office skyscrapers that extend into the sky. I edited my images in Lightroom to bring out the vibrancy.
We collapsed our tripods to take our next position facing the bright neon lights of Kabukicho. Setting up on a sidewalk, we adjusted our cameras to capture the traffic as it swooped from our right-hand side. Finding the right colour balance proved to be a challenge, but the teacher summed up features that would have taken weeks of reading and experimentation to grasp on my own.
Much like before, rotating the camera allowed us to tell a story. In the image above, we asked: What’s the focus point here, the bright neon signs in the distance, or light trails from the car? Then, the buildings on the right, what do they add to the photo? Anyone can take this picture (and searching online, thousands of people had) so we refined the framing.
After moving towards the all too familiar welcome sign to Kabukicho, we took some long-exposure shots up close. The shot above demonstrated the need to change our settings. Although we captured the light trails from the cars, the signs in the background were out-of-focus. Detailed explanations of the settings helped us to get a better shot.
Taking a break from the light-trail format, we took a detour along a narrow street. It was crammed with hungry Tokyoites darting in and out of tiny bars and eateries. Our goal was to capture intimate moments with passers-by, forcing us to work quickly and to interact with our subjects.
Walking through Omoideyokocho, I took close to 60-70 photos, but the one above is my favourite. Everyday people are winding down after work in these small, cramped restaurants. With every bit of space utilised, you can only fit two staff members (with everything to prepare yakitori), and seating for eight customers. In such a lively area with tourists and locals aplenty, the woman in the back with her eyes closed looks almost lonely, despite being surrounded by people.
Before long we were on the move again, this time to another overpass overlooking a busy dual carriageway. The lesson here was using clues in the environment such as traffic lights and the sound of approaching traffic, to plan the timing of the shot. We found ourselves interacting with locals as our equipment drew curious glances and conversation with passers-by.
At the famous Shibuya scramble, we tried one of the teacher’s signature moves; we made use of the size of our group to dash halfway across the crossing. This formed a human wall and captured only the pedestrians crossing from the opposite side. After a few attempts with mixed and hilarious results, it was time to say goodnight.
Remember your Tokyo trip with some impressive vacation photographs (the best souvenirs in our opinion), on our Tokyo photography tour.