A crash course on street photography in Tokyo

February 20, 2015

Visiting friends in exotic places makes travel that much sweeter but visiting a photography friend in a city as wicked as Tokyo is a whole other level of sweetness that I can’t describe.  While in Tokyo a little over a year ago (yes, this post is embarrassingly late!), I had the chance to hang out with the very talented Dave Powell of Shoot Tokyo.  Brought together by our love of Leica cameras, Dave treated me to a fantastic urban photo tour of one of the craziest cities on the planet.

I’ve never considered myself an official street photographer.  I’m a travel photographer – documenting people, places and things while on the road.  When I started traveling heavily for work while living in Europe, I could think of no better souvenir than capturing the scenes that moved me in a particular place.  With a camera, each city becomes a canvas – lights and shadows, scenes and tableaus, faces and facades. I photographed everything that felt unusual, exotic and inspiring.

Dave takes city photography and pushes the boundaries by capturing people. The man is fearless.  It was amazing to watch him walk up to complete strangers, smile and ask for permission to take their photographs.  When they refuse, he finds a way to gently insist and a few minutes later the once shy subjects are posing and smiling for him as if in a fashion show.  His fearlessness and in-your-face approach are inspiring.  On this particular evening out in Shibuya he assigned me to go and photograph fifteen strangers. Strangers!  It wasn’t an easy task and I didn’t get to fifteen exactly but I had a lot of fun trying!

What I learned:

  • The more awkward you are, the more awkward your subjects will feel.  Chillax and own it!
  • It’s better to be direct and ask for permission to shoot someone than lurk around the corner trying to steal a shot. People can sense when they’re being stalked and most get really annoyed and yell at you don’t like it.
  • Set your ISO and exposure ahead of time so you can shoot at a moment’s notice without having to fiddle with your settings.
  • Don’t let (inevitable) rejection get you down. Shake it off and move on to your next target.
  • Don’t be afraid to deliberately frame your subject. Position him in front of a grungy alley or in the middle of a busy street.  Once someone has agreed to get their photo taken, they usually don’t mind being directed.  Some will even enthusiastically pose themselves!
  • Smile. Always smile!

Here are a few of my favorite shots:


How amazing is her hair?! Photo credit here goes to Dave. He was showing me how to properly expose for evening shots.


Half the fun of taking photos of strangers is showing them what you captured afterwards.


Our friend Scott.


My brother, Danny.


Her hat was amazing. It said: Only God Can Judge Me. Ha! Amen!


This guy really didn’t want to be photographed but eventually conceded probably because he couldn’t find the words in English to tell me to go away.


We ran into this guy on our way home just a few minutes from Shibuya Station. The bar lights next door created a very cool effect.

Denise Gamboawww.agirlintheworld.com
Here’s a shot of me framed perfectly in the street, shot by Dave.

A few days later, my brother and I visited the Asakusa district and I tried my hand at a few people photos again.


He was at the shrine on a school trip.


These two weren’t camera shy at all.


I stole this shot. The girls were posing jokingly for their friends in front of two buddha statues just outside the shrine. They were too cute.

Japan was amazing.  I can’t wait to go back.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Ferreira February 22, 2015 at 1:26 am

A great post. I really struggle with the confidence to ask strangers if I can take their photograph. You have captured some really fantastic shots here. Tokyo is an amazing place to photograph, looks like you had a a great time.

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Denise February 22, 2015 at 11:46 am

Thanks Jennifer! I still find it hard to ask strangers if I can take their photograph but I find that the more relaxed and genuine I am, the more open they are. If anything, it’s a chance to strike up a conversation with someone new. I love your photos of Tokyo, by the way!! Thanks for stopping by!

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