Friday, January 27, 2012

Tokyo....Part 1

I am long overdue in writing something about my travels to Tokyo. I have been going there intermittently for the last four years and this has been a business destination for me so I haven't had the time to photograph it with the same fervor that I would apply to a focused travel trip. My photographic opportunities have been limited to catching some hurried shots on coffee breaks or on the way back to the hotel. As my visits have been business based I usually have one of my smaller cameras on hand so that I can carry it in my laptop bags and in the case of this post its the tiny but robust Canon S90 that made the trip.

I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the locations I shot in and share some experiences with this little gem of a travel cam. I intend this to be a two part post as there are some aspects of the Tokyo experience and how I feel about it that I would like to share along with the photo stuff. I also tried out a few of the small cams I have and even took a D300 on one trip so we can look at these in the future posts.

Firstly, the S90 experience. The S90 Ken Rockwell review will tell you all you need to know about the camera from a review viewpoint so I will only reinforce what Ken says about the size (very small), lens (very fast for this type of cam at f2) and the very poorly designed adjustment dial which, if you are set on aperture priority will spin in all sorts of exposure adjustments at the slightest touch. You need to keep a continual eye on this control.

I took the camera to Rappongi's Mori tower which is where my office for Japan is and it has the most amazing observation deck on the 52nd floor. Make a point of getting there about an hour before sunset and you can shoot in the interesting gardens and buzzing courtyard. There are two cliche shots that you should look out for once inside the tower, firstly, near the entrance you will find a nice vista with the Tokyo tower in view.

I have never been that enamored with the tower and it gets very heavily photographed so best to get your shot and move on to the more interesting sunset view around the other side.

I bit of advice on shooting through the windows which are pretty clear but if you don't get you lens right on the glass and surrounded by a piece of cloth, you run the certain risk of having unwanted reflections in the shot and this will be ruinous. If you are going up with a bigger camera I would suggest buying a cheap, flexible rubber lens hood so that you can completely seal the camera lens against the window.

Once you get around to the other side stake yourself out a good location at the window and don't move until the light is gone. You should be able to get three or four different types of light and you can compose for different effects. The lead in shot at the beginning above is one of these and is pretty much the full vista with Mount Fuji behind and the sun just out of shot so that I could hold the golden color without blowing out. Regular readers will know that I have been shooting at dusk with a Nikon V1 recently and using a 'shade' setting for sunset with nice results. I would very much like to go back here with that set-up and shoot the scene again, I am convinced it would come out very nicely.

This is probably my fave from the session and I was lucky enough to have the low cloud that momentarily blocked the sun enough to get this little bit of starburst and flare. This one is obviously shot about ten minutes before the sun descends completely. Next up you can shoot just as the sun goes and try to get some street detail into the shot by trying a little bit of + exposure comp.

Last up would be once the sun is down and the city lights start to come up. If you have braced against the window as I suggest you should be able to get away with a slowish shutter speed for this final shot. I think I zoomed this a little to emphasize Mt Fuji again.

Unfortunately my S90 ran out of battery at this point and I had to pass up some very nice silhouettes of people viewing the last light through the floor to ceiling windows, make sure you take a little time for these as I thought it looked great.

Once you get back to the courtyard level at Mori tower you will be able to find something to rest your camera on and set off a few longer exposures with the self-timer  before the sky gets too black.

Once you have these shots in the bag its worth getting out onto the streets and I will dwell more on the street shooting in the next post but here are a few that I took with the S90.

Reflections play a big part in street shooting in Tokyo and you can see that the taxis are colorful and plentiful. It's worth messing about a bit with these and exploring how you can make the shapes, colors and light work to your best effect.

The Tokyo subway and train system plays a huge part in almost everyone in the cities life, and with taxis being so expensive you will most likely end up in there at some point. It presents a wealth of photographic opportunity however this was where the S90 began to show its weaknesses, and its slow focus and operation and mediocre high ISO shooting makes it a little bit more limited than say a better M4/3 camera would be. Nevertheless you should find some interesting subject material and its worth trying to use these disadvantages positively by slowing the shutter to get train and people movement blur to emphasize the commuter activity.

This is hardly the best of shots but you can see what I mean.

Finally for this first post, here is one of my favorite Tokyo shots taken in Akihabara which is camera shop paradise and you will find all of the latest models, every camera and lens you can think of, and all sorts of electronic and computer kit in the massive department stores there. Incidentally, this the only shot here not taken by the S90, it was taken on a Ricoh GRD 2 that I have subsequently lost somewhere :(

As usual, I sincerely hope that this was at least a little bit useful and will be helpful to anyone on a short visit to Tokyo. I will be writing the other parts up over the weekend so stay tuned.




  1. Great shots and blog Colin. I'm glad ol'Steve Huff oosted your articles or I would have never found you...

    As for your comments on the "cliche" of Tokyo Tower shots ...You gotta make the photo your own!!!

    Here is one I took that I especially like that seems to just confuse people. Everyone is looking at it from the Mori Tower and up above what do I do ...go below.

    Nice work ...looks like we share a lot of the same travel destinations ...myanmar, vietnam, tokyo, etc, etc.


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