Photoessay: Tokyo architecture

Tokyo must be one of the best places in the world to shoot modern architecture – between the crazy ideas, traditional influences and availability of money to spend on buildings beyond the merely functional. I suppose the incredibly small plot sizes also force architects to make the best use of available space, but at the same time also stand out from their neighbours. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that all buildings are separated by a small – about 6″ – gap; presumably this has something to do with allowing slip in the event of an earthquake. Still, it does look a little odd at times.

Being personally and professionally interested in architecture, I had a field day walking around the city; a couple were shot with the Olympus OM-D and 12/2 is surprisingly good for this combination, though at times I did wish I had something a little wider – perhaps an equivalent for the Zeiss 2.8/21 Distagon which is my current mainstay for architectural work. The Sony RX100 covered everything else. Enjoy! MT

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Slices

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Tower

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Chaos

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Order

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Tradition

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I always think of this building as a bean in a hurry.

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Ginza lamppost

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Continuation of sky

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Curvature is not an illusion

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Facades I

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Facades II

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Who says windows have to follow floors?

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Mirrored shard

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Comments

  1. Great shots, I wish to be able one tenth of your quality! Great to share also with Us the tools you used. These are by far the most
    beautiful shots of Tokyo into whom I came across on the web.

  2. Xenia Edberg Kledzik says:

    “Too bad precision framing disappears…”
    I don’t aggree on that one. After one weeks shooting, I got the hang of it. I had to! Remember, this happens in the dark ages before computers and Photoshop were around:o).
    About customs: lucky you! I have to pay 25% when buying outside Europe.

  3. Xenia Edberg Kledzik says:

    Hi Ming,
    My guess is, that the whiteness in ‘mirrowed shard’ comes from the reflection of the white clouds.
    Actually, have you given some thought to the Hassy 903SWC? It is great for architecture, landscape and street, of course. I have even been shooting macro with great result.
    I bought my first SWC in 1982. When I upgraded, it sadly had to go as well as my second SWC/M many years later, when I sold all my analog equipment and went for a Leica M9-P. What I had not counted on was Leica’s slowness in lens production. I know, I know, Leica lenses are handmade and great, but anyway; I longed back to MF and Hassy. A couple of weeks ago, I managed to buy a really good looking 903SWC on ebay and I hope, it will never ever have to go again.
    By the way, there is a very useful site out there. If you google Karen Nakamura, you will find that she knows a lot about the history of all sorts of cameras, among them Hasselblad. I learned, how to date my ‘new’ SWC, before I decided to go for it.
    Well, whatever Hassy you choose, god luck hunting!
    Cheers, Xenia

    • Thanks for the tip, Xenia. I have considered it, but the price is eye watering here. I thought the SWC had a fixed wide lens though?

      • Xenia Edberg Kledzik says:

        Yes, it has: the famous Zeiss Biogon 4,5/38 which is an outstanding performer och virtually unchanged for over fifty years. I think it was first created for military use before becoming a popular choice among people like you and me. The thing is, since it has no mirror, you are able to handhold much longer than with the 500CM series. Only when I need distortionfree lines or for nightshots, I use a tripod. Also, it is very compact and light weight, camera body with lens is only 940g, with (changable) magazine 1325g. In Europe, these cameras go for much lower prices than in Asia. If custom taxes are agreeable, I would look for a Hassy in Europe or even the US and maybe buy, while you are there anyway.

        • Ah yes, I was also finding the same with the H4D-40 – the leaf shutter is incredible! Lock up the mirror first and you can handhold down to 1/40th consistently. Too bad precision framing disappears…

          Customs are very agreeable. I live in a country where cameras are 100% tax and duty free :)

  4. Excellent set Ming!
    My favorite is the Curvature image.
    Just wondering if the distortion in Silver Shard shot with little buildings tilting in bother you?
    Just wondering if I am more sensitive to that kind of distortion than most?
    Wish we had more modern arch buildings like this in the San Francisco Busy area.
    Thanks,

    Wayne

    • Thanks. No, the distortion doesn’t bother me so much – there are times when you can correct it, and there are times when it simply wouldn’t have been possible, or possible without things looking unnatural.

  5. Very nice pictures Ming! (As Always)
    You must be a happy RX100-user ;-)

  6. Gabriel Gartner says:

    Ming, this may be self evident, but are you using any sort of polarizer on these images? It seems, at least from the skies, that you are or is it just from post?

    Thanks and great images!

  7. Great shots – hope you get your hands on a Fuji XF1 and can give some feedback on how it compares to RX100 for street & architecture

    • Funny you should ask, I just bought one for the wife. Needless to say, I have taken a couple of days to shot with it…in short, the lens seems to be better than the one on the RX100. The JPEGS are excellent, and the raw files are horrible. 25mm is helpful, but the horizontal field of view is about the same as the RX100 because of the difference in aspect ration, so it doesn’t feel as wide as you might think.

  8. I am visiting Tokyo next week, for the first time, and I am very excited to shoot its architecture, especially after seeing your shots. Unfortunately my widest lens is 28mm, and even that gives me trouble when shooting buildings (the widest focal length I am used to shooting is 35mm, my favorite length to be honest, and I am not good at handling distortion and perspective with anything longer) so I will have to improvise!
    I must say that “mirrored shard” photo does look overly processed to me, after you just posted an article on proper post-production. Something about the whiteness of the main building throws me off. Nothing manmade casts such bright visage in my eyes, so it looks artificial to my brain. But I wasnt there, so for all I know it looked exactly the way you depicted it.

    Fantastic work!

    • Thanks. Enjoy Tokyo!

      The mirrored shard really was that shiny and ‘transparent’ in real life – I guess it just had its windows cleaned. If you look a my images, I think you’ll find there’s a consistency of processing there that means if it looks that way, it probably was that way in actuality.

      • Thank you! I am very excited about my trip.

        I agree that your post processing is very consistent, not to mention distinctive. I am constantly in awe of how much performance you can squeeze out of your files. Once I figure out why I cant use my paypal account, I will steal your secrets from your DVD tutorial!
        Its just that image itself stood out to me. I guess my eyes are not used to seeing such bright white color of buildings in images, or have seen such structures with all the windows cleaned :)

        • Haha – spend some time in Tokyo, and there will be a lot of WTF moments.

          I can send you a checkout link for the DVD you can use with a credit card if you prefer. Thanks!

  9. you definitely have an eye for architecture photography
    good job, you can try also the Lumix 7-14mm..

  10. Wow! Another really beautiful set, Ming.
    Carry on!

  11. Very cool!
    Great photos.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Tokyo must be one of the best places in the world to shoot modern architecture – between the crazy ideas, traditional influences and availability of money to spend on buildings beyond the merely functional. I suppose the incredibly small plot sizes also force architects to make the best use of available space, but at the same time also stand out from their neighbours. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that all buildings are separated by a small – about 6″ – gap; presumably this has something to do with allowing slip in the event of an earthquake. Still, it does look a little odd at times.  […]

  2. […] Photoessay: Tokyo architecture – Ming Thein […]

  3. […] Tokyo must be one of the best places in the world to shoot modern architecture – between the crazy ideas, traditional influences and availability of money to spend on buildings beyond the merely functional. I suppose the incredibly small plot sizes also force architects to make the best use of available space, but at the same time also stand out from their neighbours. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that all buildings are separated by a small – about 6″ – gap; presumably this has something to do with allowing slip in the event of an earthquake. Still, it does look a little odd at times.  […]

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