Aug 30, 2021
3 mins read
Travelling often takes us to places that are radically different than the places we are most familiar with. That's a large part of the reason we travel (at least for me). It's fascinating to see new scenes that are unlike anything we're used to seeing at home. It helps us to expand our understanding of the world, and how we all experience similar things differently.
Tokyo is one of those places, for me. Even if you've never been to Tokyo, you probably have some sense of what the city is like, at least in some ways. One of the more well-understood things about Tokyo is just how crowded it is. In fact, Tokyo has the highest population of any metropolis in the world, at about 37 million residents. But even knowing that, it's relatively easy to get around the city, due in large part to it's extensive train system, and it's super-efficient urban planning.
Which brings me to this post's topic...just how do you get decent travel photos in a city like Tokyo, with all those darn people? I learned a long time ago that it's impossible to eliminate people completely from photos taken on the streets, unless you shoot photos in the middle of the night. Or if you secure a "closed set" like a movie production. But who has that kind of money?
The trick is to include those people, but just as background blurs. Once the people in the background are blurred ghosty figures, they are no longer a distraction to what you really wanted to photograph. Take my featured image in this post as an example. This photo was taken in Tokyo's famous "Shibuya Scramble", well-known as the world's busiest pedestrian crossing. Since it's a scramble crossing in one of the busiest prefectures in Tokyo, it's not unheard of for 3,000 people to cross the road at the same time.
That fact alone is one of the reasons photographers love to photograph the crossing. I know I do - I've photographed it many times, and on my next trip back to Tokyo, I am certain I will photograph it again. Most people are happy with seeing the crowds in their photos and mobile phone videos. I have plenty of those, too. It's a great memory, and a great story to tell your friends back home. But wouldn't it be better to make that crowd disappear, even just a little?
For this photo, I was using a tripod (ask anyone, I rarely travel without one), so I was able to keep my camera steady quite easily. I was standing on an elevated planter platform, so I was taller than everyone in front of me. As the crossing started, I began my exposure, which ran for 10 seconds at f8. The resulting image made all the moving people a complete blur, while my friend Fred Langer was standing still, so he remains pretty solid. The reason the large blur of people has a lot of white blur is because white shirts are the standard business attire in Japan, so 80+% of the people will be wearing that colour.
So that's the tip. Don't let crowds stop you from shooting your street photos. Let them be a part of the photo. But just set it up so that they are not the main part of the photo, using exposure controls. It can be a lot of fun experimenting with long exposure in street scenes. Give it a try and have fun!