Friendly Faceoff

Podcast 332 : Sakura Photo Walk Report – Tokyo 2012

Kind of following on from last week’s Podcast, on my recent visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market, I’m going to step back a few days to the Saturday before that, April 7, when I joined the Sakura Photo Walk in Shinjuku, here in Tokyo. This was the first photo walk I’ve joined, and I wanted to thank Mark Esguerra for calling the group together, and Takahiro Yamamoto too, for leading the group through some of the backstreets of Tokyo around to the Metropolitan Building, and then also finding a great English Pub for us to relax in for the evening.

Use this audio player if you’d prefer to listen and there are other formats at the bottom of the post:

Today, I’m going to show you some of my favorite pics from the day, and talk a little about how valuable I found the experience of actually doing a photo-walk. This was just my first, but it certainly won’t be my last.

We were scheduled to start at 1pm at the main gate to the Shinjuku Gyoen park, but this is a very popular spot for Cherry Blossom viewing parties or Hanami, so when I arrived, about 15 minutes early, there was already a queue of over a thousand people or so at the gate. It turns out that there was a line of security guards checking people’s bags for alcoholic beverages, as they aren’t allowed in the park. This is kind of weird as most Hanami parties include getting totally bladdered under the cherry blossom trees, but I guess they’ve probably had problems in the past and now clamped down on this in the park.

Friendly Faceoff

Friendly Faceoff

It took us to around 2pm to actually gather, and I met Mark for the first time, as well as Takahiro, who’s work I really like, which was nice. I also was able to meet a number of other people that I’ve so far only known from Google Plus, such as Yuga Kurita, who’s actually a carbon-based, bipedal life form descended from a cat, and very nice person too. I also met Masanobu TanzawaAndrew Holian and Jason Thompson, who I’d met online, and Eric Seaholm, who we’ll see later. There were lots of other great people that joined, but it would take too long to mention them all here, so let’s move on for now.

The group quickly split up, and people went their own way around the park. I spent most of my time with Jason Thompson and Eric Seaholm, and we bumped into other members of the group as we walked and photographed. Although we were in Cherry Blossom season, I didn’t go to the park expecting to be able to photograph the cherry blossom as a main subject.

As we can see in this first photo (above) shot almost at the end of the day as the park was closing, the trees were beautiful, but because of the crowds I’d decided from the start to see what I could capture with regards to how the people were enjoying the cherry blossom. This was one of my favorite shots, as we have this western guy having a good chat with a punk looking girl with red and pink hair. I opened the aperture open wide to f/2.8 for a shallow depth-of-field, but you can also still see some women to the right that look as though they’re laughing at the fashion of the younger girl here. I also like how this photo gives you a sense of just how crowded the park gets at this time of year. Usually there’s enough space for kids to play with footballs and run around having fun, but not during Hanami time.

Someone Else's Group Photo!

Someone Else’s Group Photo!

Also at the end of the day, as people were getting ready to leave, this group of young men gathered for a group photo, being taken from my right, but I couldn’t resist snapping my own version as well. Even though this was a photo-walk, I still used my Black Rapid Double Strap so that I was nicely balanced, to avoid getting tired by being pulled to one side or forwards, with a single camera on a strap. The last shot was from my 70-200 f/2.8 lens, that I had on one side, and I was able to quickly switch between that and my 50mm f/1.2 lens on the other side, which is what I shot this with. Again, I shot this wide open, at f/1.2 this time, to send the background out of focus. Of course, with that shallow a depth-of-field, the people at the back of the group were also going out of focus, but I like the overall look. I’d need to stop down more for a group photo if I was the official photographer of course.

Although I’d been photographing for a couple of hours at this point, and the company had been great too, I must admit, I started to really have fun from around this time, and as we walked out from the Gyoen Park and across town. The route we took to begin with was not new to me, but as a group, I found myself in the kind of mode that I get in during the workshops and photography tours that I hold, and this is one of the things that I wanted to reflect on a little.

As in this shot (below), I’ve walked past this little alley many times, and I think I’d even photographed it once in the past too, but with the heightened senses I had through being on the walk, and possibly a sense of rivalry, that I had to try and get as many reasonable shots from the day as possible, I found myself raising my camera more than I usually would, had I been say just in town doing a bit of shopping.

Sakura Decoration

Sakura Decoration

Of course, the fact that they had the cherry blossom decorating the alley made it totally different on this day, and I may well have shot it anyway, but there’s no doubt that I was being pushed on by the fact that I was part of a photography group.

Feeding on Each Others’ Creativity

As I say, we get this on my workshops and tours too. The group feed from each other in a creative sense. Either through showing each other what you just shot on the back of the camera, or just from trying to outdo the next guy, but there’s an electric air of creativity that I certainly felt with this group.

Cosmetics Clown

Cosmetics Clown

Maybe for me it’s also partly down to my new found appreciation for street photography that has lay dormant for most of the time that I’ve spent in Tokyo, and currently starting to grab my attention more and more, as I mentioned last week.

Either way though, I enjoyed it, and felt that I was looking for photos in the city, as much as I do in the places of natural beauty that I spend so much time in outside of the city throughout the year.

I’ve found that recently I’ve been keeping my camera over my shoulder when walking in the city too, rather than carrying it in a bag, so that I can reach for it and shoot more quickly if something catches my eye, like this guy standing on a box outside a drug store, touting a sale that they were having on cosmetics.

It’s not as though this is the first time I carried my camera over my shoulder in the city, but again, felt more willing to raise the camera at anything that I found interesting, whereas I might not have in the past, if I was just out on a shopping trip.

As we walked, I noticed Eric Seaholm doing his thing, with his cool little four thirds camera, and couldn’t resist snapping this shot too. I had actually just raised my camera when Eric lowered his, but he kindly raised it again for this photo (below).

Eric Seaholm

Eric Seaholm

The shot was OK in color, but having chatted with Eric for most of the evening following this, I found this guy to be an artist to his core, expressing himself in many different disciplines, including movie making, so although I rarely mix and match my post processing styles, this one just cried out for a bit of Film Noir look in Silver Efex Pro 2.

Just down from where I photographed Eric, my usual route through the city would have kept me at street level, and around the front of the Cocoon Building that I have photographed many times in the past. But on this day, Takahiro Yamamoto led us up some stairs to a pedestrian overpass that I’d never used before. This in turn led us around the back of the Cocoon building, so my creative juices got another squeeze as we made our way through the city.

Funky Photowalk

Funky Photowalk

As I often do for cityscapes, I reached for my 14mm f/2.8 lens, and lined this shot (above) up with the walkway above street level along the bottom edge of the frame. It’s difficult to see in the Web version, but there are actually two young ladies from our group walking along the walkway in the bottom center of the frame, and I composed this so that the top of the Cocoon Building, that is home to some of Tokyo’s top art and fashion colleges, isn’t clipped at the top either. From this perspective, the ball to the side of the Cocoon takes center stage of course, but I like this structure too, so it’s a welcome addition.

A little further down, I had a clear shot upwards of the Cocoon Building with three other high-rises looking up at a slightly dramatic sky, helped a little with Silver Efex Pro. These sharp angles on the Cocoon are something that are new to me, and again, that’s thanks to the photo-walk and Takahiro bringing me around a side of the building that I’d never experienced or even thought to seek out.

The Cocoon Building

The Cocoon Building

And again, just a few more feet further on, we descended a spiral staircase at the base of the Cocoon Building, that just begged for a 14mm perspective. Luckily, the sound of my camera shutter for a couple of previous frames alerted the guy to the left of my presence, and he looked up, making this shot in my opinion (below).

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

A little further through town, we reached the Metropolitan Government Building, and they open one of their higher floors to visitors, with an excellent view out across the city. We got up their just after sun set, and there was still a bit of color in the sky, which some of the group capitalized on, but I wasn’t particularly taken by it, especially as the sun set occurs on the side of the building where there aren’t many tall buildings.

I found a spot with a view of the Docomo Tower, and as night fell, I recalled that the 5D Mark III now has multiple exposure functionality, so I had a play with that. Here you can see that I shot the first of two frames with the lens way out of focus, and the second frame focussed on the Docomo Tower and other buildings. Using the Average Exposure Control to merge the two shots, this gives you little balls of light spread throughout the city, which I thought was quite effective.

Bubbly Shinjuku

Bubbly Shinjuku

I also shot the second Government Building from the other side of the observation lounge, using the same technique (below) and though this was quite a cool look too. Of course, this is one of those looks that you could soon get tired of, but I reckon it works for these few shots, and I’ll probably shoot more as the opportunities arise. Of course, you could do this in Photoshop too with Blend Modes, but it’s much more fun to do it in camera.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.2

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.2

By the time I’d just about finished shooting this, my friend Ade came over and told me that everyone was heading down, so with the promise of beer, I quickly followed him to the queue for the elevator.

Before we headed a few more kilometers across town though, we spent a few minutes outside the building, and the group got some great shots here too. Actually, you can search for and see lots of shots from the group from this day on Google Plus by searching for #Sakuraphotowalk or #Sakuraphotowalk2012 .

Many people that shot this included the group in their photos, which looked great, but I waited until there were just two left, and shot this (below), just before rushing after them to the pub.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Again, shot with my 14mm f/2.8 lens, and I made use of the in-camera level on the 5D Mark III for this. You can see from the line across the bottom of the photo that it’s very slightly off, but it’s close enough for me, and probably user error rather than the camera.

The rest of the evening was spent at the Hub Pub at Opera City. It was great just chatting photography with lots of like minded people, and I ended up reaching for the camera a number of times through the evening too. This is one of my favorites from the Hub, of Jason Arney looking at his phone, with the light illuminating his face.

Phone Light

Phone Light

Seven pints of Guinness later, and I was on the last train home, happy and content with the day.

As I said, this was my first photo-walk, not because I’ve been avoiding them, but because they just don’t happen very much here, and I haven’t had enough experience with street photography to call my own walks together, so it just hasn’t come together.

I really did enjoy myself though, and this, and the following week’s visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market have lit a new flame in me, that won’t take over my nature work, or my portraiture work for that matter, but I’ll hopefully be able to keep the flame burning enough for this kind of photography to augment my enjoyment of my photographic life.

As I said earlier, I felt very much like I did when I am on my workshops and tours, where being around like minded people helps you to feed off of each others’ creativity. The difference here of course being that this kind of photo walk is generally free, or even if you join a professional with a workshop element, they’re usually not very expensive at all, but they can help you grow as a photographer, so if you get a chance to join something similar in your area, jump at the chance. Like me, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Show Notes

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
  • Paul Henman
    Posted at 10:35h, 25 April Reply

    I’m surprised this was your first photo walk but I’m glad it went well; if you ever find yourself in Toronto you should check out the Toronto Photo Walks group that I organise – we’re out exploring the city every other weekend!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 16:14h, 25 April Reply

      Hi Paul,

      Yes, it was my first. I’d not really been looking out for them though. I think something has clicked in me, grabbing my interest in this sort of work more than before.

      I certainly will let you know when I’m in Toronto. It would be great to shoot with you.


  • Tony
    Posted at 16:39h, 05 May Reply

    My wife and I went to Shinjuku Gyoen park while on a mini-vacation from Northern Japan and noticed that they were checking bags also. First time I’ve seen that happen. Guess people are starting to get rowdy during Sakura-time. BUT, we had a great time and I got a lot of good photos that day. We’re just getting through the blossoms up here and it’s been about a week and they’ve started falling already. Guess it’s time to get things ready for the gorge near Towada. Enjoy your photos. Hope you enjoy mine.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 18:41h, 05 May Reply

      Hi Tony,

      It might be more about people throwing up, and leaving more mess than getting rowdy, though that may have been part of it. I remember going in there some 11 years ago at Hanami time, and the place was covered in trash bags. It must have been a nightmare to clean up.

      Have a nice time at Oirase! I love that place.

      Great shots on Facebook too! Thanks for sharing.


  • Eric Seaholm
    Posted at 22:40h, 01 October Reply

    I just found this for some reason, and am humbled by your mention of me. Thank you so much for your wonderful words, Martin.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 16:09h, 03 October Reply

      You’re very welcome Eric! Nice to hear from you. 🙂

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