Black & white street photography underground in Tokyo

Blurs in stations: a little study of people moving around in Tokyo

A few shots that I took whilst out doing a lesson focused on motion and movement with two of my photography students earlier this year. 

Tokyo never really goes completely motionless and it’s always fun to centre a lesson around the topic of capturing the motion of people in the city. For most of my more beginner level students, at some point we’ll go out and explore a specific place at the specific setting of 1/6th of a second. It’s the perfect speed for capturing people at walking speed with just enough blur to imply their motion but not so much that the people totally blur-out.

On these sorts of lessons we are concentrating on a few things:

  1. How to hold the camera still at such a slow speed: practicing good posture, holding the camera, exploring how controlled breathing can help you stay still.
  2. Finding the best space to shoot in: thinking about backgrounds, how well the people will work against their background (separation), the geometry of the space (lines and curves), is it space where we have people side-on to the camera (people don’t look so great if they are heading towards or away from the camera).

On the day I shot these few pics, myself and my students had decided to shoot in monochrome. I always shoot RAW and encourage my students to do the same but if we are thinking of monochrome as an aesthetic for the shots, I want us to be shooting in monochrome; seeing the shots like that on the screen of the camera helps us think in black and white and then to search for spaces and scenes that will work well in black and white. It’s a different head-space than shooting in colour and converting to black and white later. Honestly, I think it’s much better to shoot like this.

We’d started in Yurakucho but the weather really wasn’t great so we headed underground to explore the myriad of wonderful spaces that sprawl between Yurakucho, Tokyo and Otemachi stations. Later in the day I ended up in Ueno with a different student, doing a little of the same thing.

Because the spaces connect three major stations, there is rarely a shortage of people and recently there has been a lot of work happening to renew the stations. One by-product of that is a lot of temporary signage and more specifically large arrows. We decided to focus on these for a while.

An interesting three hours sent very focused on one technique, in one aesthetic space: monochrome. Limitations always work well to channel my creativity and it’s how I like to work with my students. She got some great pics that day. I was pretty happy with the few I took.

Great locations. If you’re around Otemachi and Tokyo especially, do check them out. Try the monochrome shooting too. The colours down in these spaces can be fun but they can also sometimes be a nightmare for white-balance, giving a nasty green or muddy caste to everything. The monochrome helps you concentrate on the light and shadows, lines and composition.

All shot with one of my Nikons and my Monochrome-HC, high-contrast monochrome Picture Control.

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