The Smoker: Shibuya, Tokyo

I was out shooting a job for a client last week and after I was done, I spent a little time around Shibuya Crossing because the light was so good.

I didn't have much gear on me, just specific stuff I'd taken out for the shoot: 300mm f4, 80-200mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8

I read and hear a lot of stuff about the topic of shooting telephotos in the street. The purists always say 'nothing longer than 90mm'. People typically call it voyeurism to shoot with a long lens. I have been called a voyeur many times. I usually point out that 'voyuer' in French means simply 'someone who sees or watches'.

I don't care for listening to purists and I don't really care to be told what I can't or shouldn't do in the street with my camera. I personally think the majority of the hardcore 'street photography' crowd are so far up their own backsides with their definitions of what is or isn't street, what is allowed or frowned upon, what is hip or not.. that there is no way back to just being someone who sees or watches. 

One of the biggest arguments about teles from the street purist is that they take you away from the action, remove you from getting close and experiencing your subject. 

Right. Like the Hubble Space Telescope has removed us from getting up close and experiencing the galaxy?

Sure, it would be nicer if we could all be in a spaceship looking through the window, right up close to the Crab Nebula. But that isn't possible. So we use whatever is to hand – the Hubble, my 300mm lens – to enjoy the view we can. 

I feel part of the moment with this smoker in Shibuya because he appears close to me looking through my lens. 

I don't need to smell his breath to feel like I am part of his moment.

Many times getting close, as the street gurus call it, is [IMHO] getting so close that you become part of the moment. I don't want that all of the time. Sometimes I like to stay off a little way and peer into a moment of life and record it without interrupting it.

I am not a peeper. I am any more not intruding on anyone's life with a 300mm than someone who is shooting a 28mm on a Leica, right up close. 

I very often [if I want to or feel it is necessary, or have the chance to] engage personally with my subjects after I have shot the photo.

For many of them seeing the photo I have taken is not a shock in terms of their having been intrude on. One woman once said to me 'that's the first time I have seen that expression of mine'. She was happy I'd taken the shot because she had gotten the chance to see a moment in her life from the outside.

I like everyday life and sometimes I like capturing it from afar. To me it's like watching a movie with the volume turned down…. the action we can see unfolding like a ballet.. noiseless, tranquil.

Bottom-line is, I like doing what I like doing with whatever gear I have to hand. There really aren't any rules with 'art'. As long as I am respecting my subjects, engaging with them when I can, smiling at them… being human and dignified and treating them with the same respect… what does it matter if I am doing it from 2metres or 200?

Gear and processing?
Nikon D700
Nikkor 300mm f/4
Shot in black and white
Run through the 'exposure equalization' filter in Topaz to drop back some of the highlights and balance out the exposure a little.


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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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