I arrived in Tokyo a couple of days early – partially because of the flight schedules, partially because Tokyo is one of my favorite cities in the world for photography and I hadn’t had a chance to shoot here in nearly four years – it was high time I rectified that. I have to say that a large part of what made Tokyo so darn attractive was the fact that it felt so different from the moment you stepped off the plane; I don’t know if it’s familiarity or something else, but I didn’t really get that hit this time around.
That aside, I spent a good two days just walking around, looking and shooting anything that took my fancy. I travelled very light – in the end bringing only the OM-D, 12/2 and 45/1.8 lenses, plus a Sony RX100 for backup (the links are to my reviews); not having a bag – hell, not even having to use the pockets of my shooting jacket most of the time – was positively liberating, not just because Tokyo appeared to be going through a warm ~25C spell.
The first day of the workshop started off with a briefing to explain the critical components of what goes into making a good image; followed by a period of just walking around Ginza, observing, with me pointing out compositions and the participants not distracted by the technical aspects of taking a photograph; by the end of the half hour, I was starting to see a lot of sneaked shots.
We proceeded to a rather nice garden for a gentle introduction to the workshop, and easing the participants in by practicing proper perspective use and framing of edges – the best way to do this is always to focus on one topic alone and remove all other distractions; gardens are great for this because they’re quiet, tranquil and static objects are of course very friendly to do-overs until you get things perfect…
One of my favorite places in Tokyo is the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography at Ebisu; they always have some interesting exhibitions running, and it was here where I first encountered Salgado’s work – in the form of original prints, no less. There were two exhibitions running – one of a competition from a local photography club, and one of a number of classical photographers considered to be masters. We spent some time assessing both – looking at what worked in the images, what didn’t, and deconstructing them for the participants to understand what elements they specifically liked, and how we would go about replicating them – first for the amateur images, and then the classical ones. Needless to say – there were a lot more hits in the classical images, but still a surprising number of misses or difficult to understand images in both.
The afternoon and early evening was spent at Asakusa and the old market around Senso-ji temple; here we practiced the use of stages and waiting for a subject; timing, and making cinematic. There was also an unfortunate hangyoku (Tokyo apprentice geisha) who got pursued around for a few blocks…
Dinner was at Akihabara, but not until the participants had a chance to practice some of the techniques from the Asakusa session again in a more lively environment, plus add in one more tool: the correct use of spot metering for the subject.
Doyle was still raring to go after the rest of us were footsore and too full of yakitori; he kept shooting.
Day two dawned bright and clear again – the light was fantastic with nary a cloud to be seen; in the mornings, the tall canyons of buildings and their glass sides serves as very strong light guides and secondary sources; we spent it wandering around Ginza looking for light, and making the most of the naturally interesting sources both for street photography and architectural abstracts.
Following another look-for-compositions-only walk to the Otemachi district near Tokyo Central (which was mostly observed, though it broke down somewhat at the end), we dealt with the use of reflections and layering to give images added context and depth, before calling a halt at noon once the light became non-conducive for this.
The group headed to Shibuya for the final instructional portion: shooting through people and acting calm, and working a single scene for a set amount of time to force yourself to work harder to see compositions rather than just abandoning and moving on. Both of these techniques require a huge amount of people, and Shibuya crossing on Saturday afternoon didn’t fail to oblige!
Our last shooting session happened around dusk, at Shinjuku on the threshold of the seedy (and even busier than Shibuya) Kabukicho district. Here, the participants were given free reign to employ all of the techniques they’d learned in the previous sessions to capture whatever felt natural and instinctive to them; we regrouped for a review and feedback to figure out how to strengthen the idea, then went out for a final session before calling it a day for sushi.
The final day was spent completing the workflow: yes, introducing the basics of Photoshop! Probably just as well, as the weather was miserable and raining. Up til this point, I didn’t think there was physically enough space for that many Macs in one room anywhere in Japan outside perhaps the Apple Store and rural Hokkaido.
You may be wondering why we didn’t visit the tuna auctions at Tsukiji: simple, because in recent years, access has gotten prohibitively restrictive to the point that now you have to queue from 5am to get a ticket for 5.30am that only allows you access to the auction portion for half an hour, and nowhere else. If you want to shoot the rest of the market, you can only come after 9.30am – long after all of the action is over. There simply wasn’t any point.
Images from the trip are slowly making their way into our reader Flickr pool by Khair Mahfar, lemonice photos, ekindangen, doyleshafer and dcmer. I’ll be uploading mine over the coming days and weeks, and most will come here as themed photoessays, too.
And yes, don’t worry if you missed this one – there will be more workshops planned for next year; provisionally, San Francisco, New York and possibly Boston in April; Munich, Barcelona and maybe London in September. I’ve also got a couple of spots left for Melaka on 3/4 November this year, as well as the last of the Zeiss Food Photography Masterclasses. Send me an email too book a place or if you’d like more details. Thanks! MT
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