Photoessay: Tokyo, on the move

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The taxi

Unusually for me, I shot very little monochrome on my last trip to Tokyo. Almost none at all, in fact. I suspect it was partially due to equipment choice – the Hasselblad’s digital back really excels at reproducing accurate color – that made me want to explore the use of color even more. Either that, or it was the subtle subconscious influence that Saul Leiter’s work has been having on me. His color was not at all accurate, but rather both pleasing and very evocative of an emotion or era; maybe because of the tonal shift, maybe because of the conscious choice of palette.

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Photoessay: Autumn in Tokyo

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Today’s photoessay is a very special one for me: firstly because I’ve always wanted to photograph in Japan in the Autumn because of the extremely vivid colours and semi-perfected nature*; secondly, because photographing them was a very meditative and pleasant experience for me. I’ve actually never had the chance to shoot unhindered, unhurried, and unencumbered in this way before; I had the luxury of sitting, looking and just feeling the scene and the light before photographing; sometimes for hours. As a result, I was in a very different – not to be cliched, but ‘zen’ is a pretty apt description here – state of mind when creating these; as a result, they’re quite different to my usual work. In addition, the first six images in this set will go into the first ever ultra print run – to be announced in the next day or so. You’ll be able to experience these images in a way that puts you in the scene, with detail that’s immersive and colour that’s both transparent and saturated. All of these images were shot under ideal conditions, too – medium format digital back, great lenses at optimum apertures, base ISO on a tripod – which means image quality is really about as good as it gets. In all honesty, an 800-pixel jpeg doesn’t even come close – but such are the limits of the internet. I really don’t have anything else to add other than please enjoy! MT

*All of these images were shot in gardens and parks around Tokyo – the Rikyugien Garden, the Nezu Museum Garden, and the Edo Open-Air Architectural Museum. You may recognise some of them from the How To See Ep.2: Tokyo video – I discuss their creation and composition in significantly more detail there.

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Photoessay: The Yatai of Fukuoka

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During the day, you sometimes come across one or two of these food carts hiding dormant and parked in an alleyway, shuttered up and slumbering. Lights off, boarded up, you have no real idea as to their purpose. However, as night falls, Fukuoka’s traditional food carts start to emerge from their various hiding places, spread their wings, awnings, seats, sidewalk tables, makeshift walls/ partitions, lights, signs (in effect being a complete portable mini-restaurant around a counter-cum-kitchen) and cooking paraphanelia, and more attractively, their fragrant smells. Most of them congregate by the river under some trees in a stretch that’s bounded by Hakata Canal City on one side, and the seedier red light district on the other. I suppose they cater to the shoppers before they go home, and the punters before they go out.

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Film Diaries: Temples in Fukuoka

It’s impossible to go anywhere in Japan without happening across a temple or two. They provide both places of worship for the faithful and serene oases for the rest of us. They’re always impeccably maintained and a great show of craftsmanship; naturally lending themselves to photography. I spent half a day during my last trip to Fukuoka visiting some of the temples in the Gion district, and engaging in some slow, meditative photography with the Hasselblad. These images were shot primarily with the 80/2.8 CF on Ilford Delta 100 and scanned with the D800E. Enjoy! MT

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Film diaries: Postcards from Fukuoka, and thoughts on Fuji Acros 100

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On the last day of my recent trip to Fukuoka, I somehow managed to run out of film. The entire brick and both magazines of Delta 100 were depleted in a couple of hours; I was lucky enough to have magical light and the inspiration to shoot, so making the most of it, shoot I did. Let me tell you I wish they still made 220…12 frames for street work means reloading at least every half an hour or less if you’re in the thick of things.

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Photoessay: Tokyo reflections

One more from the Tokyo series. It never ceases to amaze me how clean everything is – combine that with strong, directional light, and you’ve got the making of images with instant depth. Reflections are wonderful things; they’re visual metaphors for something that might or might not be there in reality. Shot with a Sony RX100. Enjoy! MT

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Photoessay: Tokyo nights

I love shooting at night in Japan for many reasons – firstly, the city never sleeps so there’s always something interesting to photograph; secondly, the quality and layout of the light itself is interesting – their designers obviously pay a lot of attention to this; finally, it’s easy to achieve high image quality. There’s simply so much light it’s rarely necessary to venture into the higher ISO regions, so you can actually get some tonally very rich images covering a large dynamic range with little noise and reasonable shutter speeds. It was better in the pre-Fukushima days when electricity was abundant in Japan; I remember being surprised that in late 2008 I could seriously shoot ISO 200 at night, handheld.

Needless to say, on my last trip, I did plenty of roaming the streets after dark. Here is a collection of my favourite images in that theme. Enjoy! MT

This set was shot with an Olympus OM-D with the 12/2 and 45/1.8 lenses, and a Sony RX100.

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com). Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPadYou can also get your gear from Amazon.comhere. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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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If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Experiments with street photography and motion

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This series of images was captured around dusk in Shinjuku, Tokyo during my last workshop. While my students were off completing their final assignment, I decided to challenge myself to capture the feel and essence of the place in a different way to what I would have normally done. (After all, it wouldn’t be fair for me to put my students outside their comfort zone by insisting on the importance of having a central idea or theme in their images for their assignment if I couldn’t delivery myself, would it?)

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At the same time, I’d felt as though I’d been reaching a little creative stagnation of late, and wanted to force myself to do something different anyway. Having your own style is good, but at the same time, that style has to evolve and grow in order not to get stale or boring. One of the things I’d been doing a lot of lately is jacking my shutter speeds up very high to ensure I was getting every last pixel of resolution out of the new cameras; whilst this made for great definition under the majority of circumstances, this crispness of capture doesn’t always suit the theme you’re trying to shoot to.

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The idea I decided to follow for this series was flow – people as water, life as transient, a moment being more than a moment and altogether insufficient to capture the sheer volume of activity of what was going on around me. It’s a very strong impression I got simply by standing in place and watching life moving around me – people simply didn’t stop, torpedoing from location to location with some objective in mind, dispatching that objective, then moving on to the next one. (I’m guilty of this at times too; it’s a consequence of running your own business. Perhaps this experiment was as close to my subconscious was going to get to forcing me to slow down and smell the roses.)

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The only two ways I could see of communicating this idea were either to have a huge number of people lining streets and thoroughfares to appear as a continuous mass (there were a lot of people, but not that many, and moreover there was no way or achieving that vantage point) or through the use of motion blur – not a little bit, of the kind that appears at 1/30s and with people walking, but something altogether a bit more abstract. In hindsight, this would have been very easy to accomplish with a tripod, but without it, I didn’t have the foresight to pack one in – much less bring one on the day. Even a mini-pod or a Gorillapod would have been useful.

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Instead, I was forced to test the stabilizer of the OM-D to its limits – even with something to brace against (And sometimes not), I’d be needing shutter speeds in the 1/2s-1/5s range to achieve the effects I was looking for. Needless to say, you can only do this when the sun is going down. To give me a higher chance of success, I used the 12/2 for most of these shots, and shot in continuous high burst mode – not for the frame rate, but because I’d be able to keep my finger on the shutter button to minimize camera shake, and have only short intervals between frames. When I had to shoot using the LCD instead of the EVF, I would pull the neck strap tight to tension the camera somewhat against my neck and hopefully reduce shake – this technique is actually surprisingly effective. In hindsight, I should have used the self timer + burst function to completely eliminate finger-induced shake.

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One of the things with this kind of photography is that you really don’t know exactly what you’re going to get until you get it; there may not be enough motion, or too much, or you might have streaks in the wrong part of the frame; all you can do is do a lot of takes until you get the right one.

Compositionally, the most important thing to remember when involving motion in your shot is that there must always be some clearly static and sharp object in the frame to serve as a visual anchor for your composition; if this is missing, the photograph just appears to be blurred or out of focus without the same directionality and focus that is implied by motion blur. In fact, having a large number of people moving through the frame is somewhat reminiscent of the energy of strong, dynamic brush strokes in a painting. I like the idea of abstracting out the people from the scene, and the contrast between the animate and inanimate. For these images, I chose the visual anchor first, then followed it by imagining where I’d want my flows of people to go; needless to say, there were a lot that didn’t work out because I didn’t have enough people moving close to the camera – a foreground is of course a necessity of using a wide-angle lens.

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I did use the 45/1.8 for some of the images, but this proved to be extremely challenging as the lower practical limit for handholding a 90mm equivalent was somewhere in the 1/10s range on the OM-D, which is fractionally higher than what I needed for the desired effect. Still, I did manage to get lucky a couple of times with both very stable shots and convenient things to lean against. I also tried some more and less conventional techniques – panning blur, and combining staticness with abrupt motion of the entire camera to impose an impression of chaos whilst maintaining some semblance of a visual anchor. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results though. Notes for a future experiment: I’d love to try this with a tripod and a longer lens. MT

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Photoessay: The people of Tokyo

Another one of the continuing series from my last Tokyo trip – this time focusing on is inhabitants. Enjoy! MT

This set was shot with an Olympus OM-D and the ZD 45/1.8. As usual, click on any image to go to its Flickr landing page; EXIF data is intact on the right hand side link.

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Plenty to spare, Ginza

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Geisha in training, Asukusa

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Maid for hire, Akihabara

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Only in Tokyo would this be considered normal. Shibuya

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Putting up a wager, Asakusa

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Untitled. Senso-Ji temple grounds, Asakusa

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Coffee break, Shibuya

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A considered proposition. Somewhere along the Yamanote line

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Reading the fine print, Akihabara

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What happens after closing time. Asakusa

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Elegant shopping. Ginza

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Public opinion, Shibuya

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A Japanese cliche, Shibuya

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Even the chauffeur gets lost sometimes. Ginza

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the Flickr group!

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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