Without stepping on my photoblogging counterpart’s toes, I feel it’s my duty to offer some tips on taking photos in Tokyo for those of us with less artistic inclinations. I strive to get pictures of everything in preparation for old age, from food to candids of friends to blooming flowers, and this is a lot less embarrassing than it is back home because even locals love to photograph the city’s wonders. And, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what better way is there to explain your semester abroad? Answer: there isn’t one.
- Find a cool background
This especially works with food and beverages; see the countless “______ (food/beverage) in the air” accounts on instagram. This can be difficult with particularly tasty treats, because you end up eating them before snapping a picture, and crowded streets, where no one cares about your excitement for what claims to be the richest matcha gelato in existence. However, with some determination, you can prevail.
Coordinating colors always make for a cool picture. Sure, it’s just a piece of penny candy but with a coincidentally matching train stop behind it? Art.
And of course this applies to street art and sticker-blasted walls more than anything. Without this backdrop, Caroline appears uncomfortable, like she’s holding back her thoughts. But thanks to the “heartless” banner adjacent to her head, we know she’s truly smug, shoulders back as she takes on the line for conveyor belt sushi today, tomorrow the world
2. Appreciate the mundane
Sure, the lights of Yokohama Chinatown are cool, the tins of dim-sum mouthwatering, but what about the people who keep the streets running? Here you can see one chef on break, one at work in the window, people passing by oblivious, all bookended by industrial items like crates and Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines. (Deserving of far more attention than they receive.)
This shot, taken through the window of my train and that of the train next to it during an emergency stop, is the epitome of the Friday rush hour. Blaring red scrawls notifying passengers of their train’s movements and destinations, sleeping passengers, the teal light making everything feel like slogging through an ocean current.
The above image would likely inspire a Pixar short, if shown to the right people.
3. Shadows and profiles, people! “Head on” is for migraine relief, not photographs!
Open markets selling knick knacks and produce cover dozens of streets from dawn till dusk. You can find all the colors of the rainbow framed by gritty lights and damp alleyways. Why capture a bowl of fruit when you can have a whole stand?
Again, vending machines are ubiquitous in Tokyo, on every street corner, so find one with an inventory that compliments your lipstick and click away.
4. Go close up or far away
Crowds are a given, wherever you go, but you don’t have to settle for pictures taken over the top of a sea of blurry, moving figures. Go for a close-up of wood work instead of the whole shrine; no one will be in your shot though you might end up in someone else’s.
Or embrace the business and get the whole picture with some help from mirrors or shop windows. The above arch, at a Harajuku department store, is beyond cool with its web-like effect but a shop-window selfie with passersby forming a human horizon line is just as good.
So there are my tips for capturing Tokyo, no filter required.