Google Plus 2nd Anniversary Photo Walk in Tokyo (Podcast 377)

by | Jul 1, 2013 | Art Talk, Podcast, Travelogue | 2 comments

It doesn’t seem like two years since Google Plus was launched, but last Saturday, on June 29, we celebrated Google Plus’ 2nd birthday with a photo walk here in Tokyo. I ended up with 21 photos from the day, and have select 10 to talk about with regards to my thinking behind the photos, and also just to fill you in on the day.

I’ve uploaded my 21 shots to the event photo gallery on Google Plus, and I’ve also uploaded them to my own Google Plus gallery, if you’re interested in taking a look. Because I want to put out a Podcast on this walk today, just two days after the walk, I won’t be making a decision as to whether or not any of these photos will end up as long term keepers, as the emotional connection with the day is too strong still.

Sky Tree Reflection

Skytree Reflection

I’ve got a feeling that a few might make it, but a number of them won’t. I’m definitely happy enough with the shots to talk about these ten today though, especially when you consider that this is really just a bit of fun. If I can make anything worth keeping out of it, that’s an added bonus.

So, we started at the Tokyo Skytree, a new broadcasting tower that was completed in March 2011 and has just started broadcasting it’s signal out to the Tokyo area. It replaces the wonderfully characteristic Tokyo Tower that for me, as for many, will probably remain one of the iconic structures symbolizing Japan’s economic growth as they rebuilt the country after World War II.

Tokyo Tower isn’t going anywhere just yet though. It will remain open and you’ll be able to travel to the top in the elevator etc. for a while yet. It’s just that there have been so many high-rise buildings built around Tokyo Tower that with it’s relatively low height of 333 meters (1,093 ft) it was no longer able to broadcast to the entire area, leaving some parts of Tokyo without a proper digital TV signal.

Anyway, I arrived at about 10am, 30 minutes before the meeting time, as I’d left early enough for the trains to run a little late, which they didn’t, but my plan was to walk around the tower trying to find some interesting angles if I had any free time before we started. This first image is one of a few of the Skytree that I’ve uploaded, and here I’d found a spot where the tower was reflected in the windows over an elevated passageway between the tower and the adjacent shopping area etc. I lined up the shot so that the reflection kind of completed the tower, as though you are looking up at an open railing rather than a set of windows.

I used Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 to convert to black and white, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love black and white skies. They always seem much more dramatic than a straight color shot, and I also just like black and white architecture. I’ve found over the years that the majority of Tokyo architecture photos that I’ve shot just look better to me in black and white. This is true of all black and white photos of course, but removing the color helps us to see the structure and form of the subject, without the added color information, which can often be distracting. I was also conscious here of the amount of roof I placed on the right side, and that patch of textured siding at the bottom, wanting to give them weight, minimizing the space for the tower and sky, to add a little drama to the photo.

After photographing the Skytee alone for a while, I went around to the meeting point, and found a good sized crowd already gathered. I met a few friends that I hadn’t seen in person since the first anniversary walk a year ago, and there were a lot of new faces. Remember names was going to be difficult. I’m terrible with names at the best of times…

I found the registration queue, and let them know I was there, paid my money for the boat we’d ride on later, the entrance fee to Hamarikyu, and most importantly, my $40 for the party that we’d have when the walk finished. I was given a sticker with my Google Plus profile photo and name on it, a map and key times for the walk, and a Google camera strap, which is actually quite cool.

We had a steady walk around, and shot the tree some more before starting to walk towards the Asakusa area. We passed through a small park, in a small corner of which is the Ushima Shrine, and we were lucky enough to find a wedding ceremony in progress (below).

Mohican/Japanese Wedding

Mohican/Japanese Wedding

I switched between Aperture Priority and Manual exposure modes throughout the day, still trying to get used to Aperture Priority, which I had set when I shot this. I had Auto ISO set too, to give the camera more wiggle room, and with Plus 2/3 Exposure Compensation for this shot, the camera set my ISO to 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second, at f/4.0. I had added a little exposure compensation to stop this from going dark, but I didn’t need much.

Yagishita-san Doin't His Thang!

Yagishita-san Doin’t His Thang!

I have to admit that I didn’t even notice that the guy in this shot had a mohican, which I thought was quite cool to say the rest of the wedding still seemed to be very traditional. We can also see the Shinto Priest wafting his Ounusa, like a wand with paper streamers on it, to purify the happy couple. We heard from the Shinto priest that blessed us during our Winter Wonderland Tour here in Japan this year, that bad spirits are sucked into the paper on the Ounusa, and then sent on their way, removing them from the people being blessed.

We had to shoot this from outside of course, and as my longest lens was the 24-70mm, I had to crop just a little bit from around the edges here to clean it up a little. Note too that I used the new Upright feature in Lightroom 5 to straighten the vertical lines, and it worked like a charm with one click.

Next up we see Shuhei Yagishita (right), a Tokyo Plusser jumping for us on a wall, in front of the Skytree. It was a relatively narrow wall, but luckily there wasn’t much of a drop on the other side, as I had visions of him doing a duChemin on us when I first saw him climb up there. He was a great sport though, and jumped a few times on request. I like the leg position and dynamism in this frame.

Note that with the black and white conversion here, I didn’t go as dark with the sky as I usually do, because Shuhei had a black t-shirt on, and we’d lose the separation if the sky was too dark. It would have been great if we could have done this when there was a big fluffy cloud behind his upper body too, but we didn’t have that luxury.

By this point, it was 12:30, and we would now have a couple of hours of free time to go and get lunch in the Asakusa area, and I found this next scene under the highway as I headed over.



This was actually quite a colorful store, and the first of these images that I considered leaving in color, but as I worked through my set, I found myself with so many photos that would be black and white, I started to really want to do the entire set in black and white. I processed each of them individually, using various settings, and various color filters and color channel tweaks to emphasize or deemphasize colors depending on the photo.

Old Gentleman Taking a Rest

Old Gentleman Taking a Rest

Note too that as this was under the highway, the only light in the scene was that which was pouring in from the left of the frame, so I reduced the Highlights slider in Lightroom to -18, and then reduced the highlights in Silver Efex slightly too, to tone down the left side which was slightly overexposed in my original.

Sitting on the bench on the left of the last photo, was this old gentleman (right), enjoying his cigarette. This is one of those times when I turn on the under-excercised street photographer in me, and fought my anxiety to ask permission for a photo. Although I’ve started to enjoy this type of photography over the last couple of years, I still don’t give it enough time to really get comfortable with this, and as far as I believe, many people never get over the anxiety of walking up to strangers and asking them if it’s OK to photograph them.

It makes it a lot easier when you speak the language though, and although this gentleman looked quite stern as I approached, I smiled and said hello, and knelt down so that I wasn’t looking down at him, and asked if it would be OK to photograph him, adding that I thought his beard was absolutely incredibly cool, and I did.

I shot two frames, and then showed him them on the camera, and his face lit up, so I shot a couple more. This was the second to last, as he blinked in the last photograph. I found that he was a local, living in this area, and after a very brief conversation, I thanked him again, and moved on.

Sensouji (Temple)

Sensouji (Temple)

I entered the street of old stores that runs up to the Sensouji Temple from the side, just past the middle, and started to make my way up to the main temple. The Google film crew stopped and videoed me standing in the middle of the crowds for a while, but despite our group being over eighty strong, once I’d left the the video crew, I didn’t see a single person from our photo walk group until I made my way around to the afternoon meeting point at around 2:30, about half an hour after this shot from inside the main Sensouji Temple building (left).

I didn’t see any no photography signs, and none of the officials asked me to stop, so being somewhat respectful that this is a place of worship, I shot a handful of images like this. If you’ve ever been to a large shrine or temple like this in Japan though, you’d know that they aren’t quite the same as religious building in most other countries.

Although the Japanese will throw coins into the box in front of the area where the main ceremonies are held, then clap to alert the gods to their wishes, before holding their hands together and praying for a while, it’s not as serious as most countries, for want of a better word. Maybe sullen works better, but to many Japanese, a visit to a shrine is part of the tourism or day trip that they’re probably on, and although many locals will feel very attached to this place spiritually, for many here, it’s just another stop, something to tick off, before they move on to see the next Tokyo sight.

Again in Aperture Priority at f/11 for a deep depth of field, my ISO jumped up to 8000 here for a 30th of a second, but the 5D Mark III ensured there was too much grain in the shot. This also allowed me to capture all the beautiful detail in the roof of this building that I honestly had never really noticed before. There is always so much light pouring in from the doors that the ceiling is usually very dark, so this was a fresh look at the building for me.

After Sensouji, I headed back around to the banks of the Sumida River where we were to meet, and half the group would ride the water bus to Hamarikyu, a park that we’d walk around later in the afternoon. The meeting time was 2:30, which seemed a little over cautious when you consider that our boat wouldn’t leave until 3:20, but I got there on time, and chatted to others as I waited.

This photo (below) was shot from the roof of our boat, as we pulled away from the pier. By now, the light was further around the Skytree, so unlike the earlier shots, it was now easier to capture it’s metallic surface and all the detail. The other reason I shot this of course was because Himiko, the futuristic boat to the left had entered the picture.

Himiko with Sky Tree

Himiko with Sky Tree

Himiko was designed by Reiji Matsumoto, a Japanese anime and manga artist behind Space Battleship Yamato and a plethora of space adventures. I find it fascinating and incredibly cool that Japanese society, often considered very serious and staid, would commission an artist to design and create a boat like this. I think it’s things like this that help to keep the Japanese sane in their otherwise often very restrictive lifestyles.

The sail along the river to the Hamarikyu gardens was nice, with most of the group on top of the boat, and as we set off, a Google video crew had set up on one of the first bridges we’d travel under, and we all waved and cheered for the camera as we approached. They were filming on the boat amongst us too, with wide angle lenses extended out on monopods, swinging them over our heads. I’m quite looking forward to seeing the video, and I’m hoping it doesn’t turn out to be just a promotional video for one of their recommended plussers like last year’s video. I don’t see that happening this year though. They didn’t seem to be focusing on any one person.

I got a few shots from Hamarikyu, but this is a difficult spot to work. It’s very Japanese in some ways, and has great contrast with the towering architecture behind the park, but I’ve never really been able to get anything spectacular there. I spent most of the afternoon walking around with a guy named Camilo Medina, a talented photographer living here in Tokyo, and was enjoying the conversation as much as the photography.

We walked through the city a little more, then got on the Oedo train line for a few stops, over to Azabujuban, then walked for about 15 minutes from there to Roppongi Hills, where Google Japan is based. They’d kindly used there super-powers to get us press passed to the Sky Deck on the roof of the Mori Tower, the huge cylindrical building there, and we were given permission to use tripods, which was great!

As the sun drew close to the horizon, this first shot is before the city lights really started to come on. You can see from the blur in the clouds that this was a long exposure, but it was only 30 seconds. This was one of the first I did, but although I tried to go longer, there weren’t that many places where you could get a clear view out over the city with a wide angle lens, but without getting the railings around the deck in the shot.

Tokyo from Sky Deck

Tokyo from Sky Deck

The best place I found was where the resident photographers stood people for their tourist “I’ve been to the Sky Deck” photo, and there were people that kept coming down to the left side of this same spot, so timing was really difficult. I’m happy with this shot mind, which I basically shot with the camera pointed further up that I wanted to, to avoid people’s heads. It allowed me to get some nice sky movement in though, and we can see out to the sea in the distance, showing that Tokyo is very much a port town, though people don’t really think of it that way.

As the city lights came up, I shot this next image, which is just a six second exposure, no longer using a neutral density filter as I was for the last image. I wanted to do longer, but the obstructions were stopping me, and although there were times when I could get a clear view, there was a family that that come out on the deck, and their kids were jumping up on the hand rail, then time and again jumping back down onto the wood deck on which we were standing. This of course meant that during most of my longer exposures the deck would shake, and my shot was ruined, so I gave up on the longer exposures.

Tokyo Tower from Sky Deck

Tokyo Tower from Sky Deck

Again though, I’m happy with this shot, probably another that I had a hard time converting to black and white, but I like the way increasing the red and orange channels enabled me to make Tokyo Tower stand out as it does here. We can also see the red tail lights of the cars streaming along the highways that weave through the city too. Plus, the shorter exposure enabled me to tilt the camera down a little more, shooting between people going down here, and this enabled me to get the curve of the highway in, which I think adds a nice touch, kind of forming a circle around Tokyo tower. I love driving through the city at this time of night, and have driven around the tower on that road many times, so it was nice to get a shot from this perspective, thanks to Google.

Tokyo Plussers (Look in the Reflection)

Tokyo Plussers (Look in the Reflection)

Although it would have been nice to stay out on the Sky Deck for about another 15 minutes, we were being called in, and were already late for the party that had been planned, so we made our way back down. As I approached the last meeting point, I noticed a whole bunch of plussers’ reflections in some glass roofing over the open area where we’d meet, so I got this last shot for the day (right), looking up at the Mori Tower. To deal with the low light here, this was shot at ISO 6400 at f/2.8 for 1/25 of a second. If you are wondering why it’s all sharp at f/2.8, note that I shot this with my 16-35mm lens at 17mm, and at 17mm, the hyperfocal distance at f/2.8 is 3.4 meters, or 11ft, with the near focus starting at 1.7m or 5.6ft, so I was safe to go this wide. If that last sentence confused the hell out of you, stay tuned for an exciting announcement shortly. I have something for you that will help with that.

The party was a lot of fun, with great conversation with Camilo and also Brian Kemper, another Tokyo based photographer who is just a laugh a minute. The bear flowed, somewhat hindered by the shear numbers of our group, but a great evening was had by all. A great day in fact.

Any of you that follow me on Google Plus will know that it’s where I spend most of my social media time now. That’s not a lot of time, but of the time I spend in Social media, these days I’m probably on G+ 95% of the time, with a further 3% on Twitter, then 2% on Facebook. The thing that I enjoy about Google Plus is that it has shaped up into a real community. A photography centric community in many respects, so I really enjoy spending time there, when I have time to go online and share, or look at others’ work or what they’re posting about.

The other thing of course is that it enables us to bring that online community into the real world, as we did for this photo walk. It’s only the third I’ve been on, and it was a year since my last, but it’s great to be able to jump on a train, and go and meet some of the people that we interact with online, and I’m sure it’s like this in every city around the world. If you haven’t gotten involved in Google Plus yet, jump right in, and have some fun, and maybe also consider joining the MBP Community while you’re there. Our conversation is getting more lively by the week too, so I’ll put a link into the show notes, and it would be great to see you there.

My New eBook – Sharp Shooter!

Before we finish, I have some really exciting news to share with you, and that is that my second eBook from Craft and Vision, Sharp Shooter: Proven Techniques for Sharper Photographs, was released last week, and is now available from the Craft & Vision Web site! We start by covering what makes an image sharp in the first place, then I cover some hand-holding techniques, stabilization for long lenses and focus stacking among other things, and we also go into sharpening in post when it didn’t quite work out, and also sharpening for final output. I wrote a blog post to introduce you give you some more details, which you can find at if you are interested.


Remember these books are incredible value at only $5 a pop, but for those of you that pick up and listen to this episode quickly enough, if you use the promotional code SHARP4 when you check out, you’ll only pay $4 or use the code SHARP20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ products from the Craft & Vision Library. These codes expire at 11:59 PM (PST) July 4, 2013, so just a few days from now. If you miss that, it’s still only $5 and if you sign up for the my newsletters with the buttons on my blog, you’ll receive an email when I release any future books, so you won’t miss the sale in future.

I’m really happy to get my second book in the Craft & Vision library, and I really hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick up a copy.

Show Notes

Martin’s 21 Images on Google Plus:

Google Plus Event Photo Gallery:

MBP G+ Community:

My New eBook — Sharp Shooter:

Music by UniqueTracks


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  1. Eric Bier

    Another excellent podcast with great photos and the pleasure of your explanations of how you shot them.

    I also enjoyed Sharp Shooter. I need to remember that the quality of my technique must keep up with the quality of my equipment!

  2. Dave

    Martin, thanks for sharing your experiences and your photos. Looks like a great day. Hopefully there will be Google+ photo walks in my neighborhood one of these days.



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