Life three metres out in Tokyo’s backstreets

Alfie spends the day touring Jared, a music producer from Vermont, around classic backstreet Tokyo.

It might have been Cartier-Bresson who once said that ‘life exists from 3metres out’, a reference to the set-distance or zone-focusing technique of shooting in the streets. It’s a classic way to get street shots and whilst most people are shooting at narrow apertures – f/11, f/16 or f/22 – to get a wide band of depth of field, I much prefer shooting as wide-open as possible. Surprise, surprise!

Why? Because even though I am shooting from the hip and get a few misses here are there, after the first few shots I get my laser-guided eyesight in the groove and can guess 3m quite perfectly. And when you hit the shot at f/1.2 or f/2, boy, the light and focus fall-off you get with the 50mm f/1.2 shot so wide open is just the most sexy thing you’ve ever seen. Plus the subjects really pop. It’s not everyone’s taste mind you, with many liking the deep focus street shooting technique better, which gives them detail across a wide band of subjects.  This wide-aperture technique certainly tends to work better for individual people or groups where focus-separation helps the mood. Crowds often suit smaller apertures.

Anyway, today I had a lot of fun not least of which because I was touring Jared around and he’s a lovely guy. A music producer and musician from Vermont, Jared is in Japan for a week or two with his dad – a 40-year veteran of doing business here. Jared found my work on the web, saw I did tours and booked me up for a few hours of walking and shooting.

The backstreets of Ningyocho and Jimbocho proved to be a great choice and the sprinking of rain today did nothing to take the edge of our fun and proved for me, as usual, to be even more fun that when the weather is dry.

Jared is developing an interest in photography shooting for now with just a compact, the Canon G11. He got some great shots. I hope I helped him ‘see’ a little better on today’s session and it was lovely to jam with him about music, cinema and photography… whilst soaking up some classic Tokyo streets.

I left him at the Imperial Hotel, with his dad. The pair of them head to Kyoto tomorrow. I hope today’s session fires-up Jared a little. I think it will. It certainly got me buzzing about all sorts of things. Never anything better than trapsing around Tokyo, camera in hand, in the company of lovely people. I love my life. :-)

All my shots below were taken on the D700 and 50mm Nikkor f/1.2 Ai lens. All were shot from the hip, with the focus set to 3 metres and the aperture at either f/1.2 or f/2.

They were all shot straight to black and white in camera, using my Monochrome2 picture control and none of the shots have had any editing or cropping whatsoever.

About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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