Street Photography in Shinjuku, Japan

April 22, 2012 · 24 comments

One thing I’ve usually avoided on this blog has been photos of people. It’s uncomfortable to take pictures of strangers (or relative strangers) and posting them on the internet. A lot of people don’t like their own photo being taken after all. I’m pretty sure the untag button is constantly being clicked on Facebook.

But I can’t call myself ‘AdventureRob’ and avoid doing something as simple as taking pictures of other humans. So my adventure this time was to make use of my new camera and lens and have a go at street photography. Taking candid photos of the characters around Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan. Here’s how I got on…

Japanese fat bruce lee imitator

Bruce Lee!

It’s a pretty difficult thing to do. The main thing is though to take a photo of as many people as you can. You’ll be surprised by the amount of interesting looking people there actually are out there. Autofocus is not actually the best way to do it either. Even with the fastest auto-focusing camera in the world, it’s possible to miss shots because of constantly changing distances between you and the subject. So I had to use manual focusing a lot. Which resulted in some mis shots (hence more need to take more photos).

girls in black and white dress on zebra crossing

Black and white lines

Another thing I learnt is getting in close is key to good photos. The above one being an exception (I took it because the girls both had black and white striped skirts on in the middle of the crossing). The best way of doing this is getting a single focal length (prime) lens that has no zoom. This forces you to think in one focal length and helps with the manual focusing. You can use a telephoto focal length like 150mm, but you won’t get the up close action and feel of actually being close up with a shorter focal length. All of my photos here were taken with a 50mm equivalent on 35mm film format for reference.

woman on phone

Woman on phone

shop customer

Woman in shop

man dressed up as rilakkuma


Not everyone poses like Rillakuma (relax bear) above and the overweight Bruce Lee. That’s a good thing as it’s too artificial. However you can catch some people relaxing if you’re quick (and they aren’t). There is no need to hide away, get up close with the camera and capture some magic.

Smoker in Japan


Fortune teller

Fortune teller

The above 2 images are misfocused. Something that gets better with experience, I’m hoping anyway. Random note: Smoking areas are good for candid shots of people relaxing. Anyway, there is a lot of hit and miss but that is half of the fun because when you get it right, it’s very rewarding. Here’s my 2 money shots (as well as Bruce at the top!), enjoy:

4 people doing a deal

Group meeting

homeless man next to bikes

Homeless man and bikes


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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

LIssie - from Travel Tips April 22, 2012 at 11:12 AM

I must say I’m pretty scared of taking photos of people myself. I need to just do it really, and get over it! Though I do like a long zoom so I can be descrete!
LIssie – from Travel Tips´s latest blogpost – Lis’s Travel Round Up – April Edition


AdventureRob April 22, 2012 at 1:38 PM

It’s one of those times when looking like a tourist is an asset. I’ve been around Tokyo a fair amount of times now so it can get boring. This is when taking photos of buildings and usual attractions changes to people, which is a subject that is always interesting.

I used to use long zooms on people too, but the photos really don’t come off as personal as getting close with a short focal length :-)


Sam April 28, 2012 at 12:33 PM

Nice pics. I also want the long zoom when I’m taking street shots. Check out this guy who seems to have the street photography thing down to a fine art!


AdventureRob April 29, 2012 at 2:38 AM

Thanks very much.

His pics are good, but it’s not best to rely on a long zoom in my opinion still. I noticed his were all 135mm and f2, which is nice, but means you always have to step back and look in. Some are done well enough not to give that impression, but a few with other people walking in the way of the photo reveals the secret.


James White April 27, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Oh, that last one is simply amazing! As if he has posed especially for you. You can even read the sorrow in his eyes…So sad, yet so impressive!


AdventureRob April 29, 2012 at 2:36 AM

Thanks. Yes I saw him there and took a quick snap almost head on, but it was blurred and I was disappointed by the missed opportunity. But fortunately he seemed to be in his own world so as I walked beside from this angle, he held the pose and I nailed it :-)


DL Photography April 30, 2012 at 12:54 PM

Just looking at the photo of ‘Bruce Lee’ there, I couldn’t imagine him untagging himself from ANY photo. He loves it…


AdventureRob April 30, 2012 at 4:31 PM

Ha, yeah good point.


Athena May 2, 2012 at 5:36 PM

Wow! These shots are really beautiful, I do love capturing every interesting place and this spot is lovely perfect…


AdventureRob May 6, 2012 at 7:04 AM

Thanks! I guess the people are what ultimately make a place when it comes to an urban environment.


Margy Sanchez May 4, 2012 at 7:14 AM

Haha! The bald Bruce Lee made me laugh. So cute^^ Ever encountered some of those people chase after you? Or let me guess, you’re way too far from them that some didn’t even notice you taking pictures. Anyway, great shots!


AdventureRob May 6, 2012 at 7:06 AM

Nobody chased after me, didn’t even get a comment or look.

My shots are taken at a 50mm equivalent on 35mm format, so they were all taken close. I think shooting at long focal lengths doesn’t capture what is really happening when it comes to people or show the surroundings well, which is why I said in the article they are all close.


Laura May 4, 2012 at 6:24 PM

Street photography was really defined by the famous French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson as he developed his concept of the decisive moment.


AdventureRob May 6, 2012 at 7:06 AM

Certainly was. He’s still talked about today when it comes to street photography, usually being the benchmark for peoples work.


jennifer May 8, 2012 at 6:08 AM

These photo collections is very impressive, caught in the action emotions…
jennifer´s latest blogpost – blonde highlights


AdventureRob May 8, 2012 at 9:03 AM

Thanks :-)


Poagao May 8, 2012 at 7:56 AM

Good luck on exploring street photography; there area many groups on flickr that explore the subject, a couple of which I administer. If you’re interested, my main advice would be to look at more good work, as much as you can find, and don’t let “street photography” be an excuse for bad photography.
Poagao´s latest blogpost – tidy


AdventureRob May 8, 2012 at 9:07 AM

Thanks for comment. I’m surprised by just how big the street photography scene is. A lot of people don’t seem to be taking good photos though, just snapshots of people not really doing anything. Street photography should attempt to tell a story about the person if it’s not going to be artistically composed (i.e. waiting for someone to walk past a good spot/scene/backdrop). The lady on the phone photo here is an example of a snapshot without much thought. The fortune teller is the opposite (but unfortunately mis-focused).


Poagao May 8, 2012 at 9:18 AM

Yes, it’s vast, and most of it is crap, unfortunately; a lot of people seem to be into it just lately for some reason, perhaps boredom or an urge to do something other than flowers, kittens and/or sunsets. Still, there are some pockets of good photography, “street” and otherwise, that are useful resources. IHMO, a good shot should not only impart at least part of a story or have an emotional impact, it should be artistically composed. You shouldn’t sacrifice one for the other.


AdventureRob May 9, 2012 at 4:19 AM

True, the best photo’s will have it all, no arguments with that. It just seems if you can’t do one, then the photo is not really share with the world on the internet worthy unless it has something else too, humour maybe.

In other news the homeless guy and bikes photo won me a travel photo competition, so that’s encouraged me to have more of a go with street photography for a bit.


Sar @ Wall Stickers May 19, 2012 at 8:36 AM

Nice pics, congrats on the homeless man and bikes photo. Hope you’ll post more because you inspire me to take photos and capture candid moments :)
Sar @ Wall Stickers´s latest blogpost – Comment on Wall Decals by happ5691


AdventureRob May 21, 2012 at 2:06 PM

Thanks :-) More photos will come in due time.


Duncan @ Travelistic May 24, 2012 at 9:50 AM

Hey Rob,

The last pic is by far the best for me.. cant wait to see some more snaps!

Duncan @ Travelistic´s latest blogpost – How to buy the right backpack for travelling


AdventureRob May 24, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Thanks very much Duncan.

I hope to start selling my photos in the future. That last one is one that will be a bit of a promotional one for my abilities, I’m so happy with it.
AdventureRob´s latest blogpost – Photo: Studio Ghibli Stained Glass Window


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