Sakura Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo Japan means Spring has arrived

Inokashira Park with sakura cherry blossoms in full bloom - Olympus 5060 digital cameraIt is the first day of spring, which in Florida does not have as much meaning as there is never really any winter so it's not a date to look forward to like it is in most parts of the world.  This is expecially true in Tokyo, where the end of March brought my favorite (and millions of others' favorite) time of year, cherry blossom season.  Sakura (the Japanese word, also a popular name for girls) bloom for about two weeks.  If things time out right, that means getting two weekends to enjoy the pinkish white blossoms.  Above is Inokashera Park, a place to see sakura in a more natural setting from land or water.  Many couples go out on small boats, but the legend of the pond is that any couple that does is then doomed to breakup!

The old & new of the Shinjuku area of Tokyo Japan with a river lined with cherry blossoms.This photo is from my neighborhood in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and highlights the contrast of the ultra-modern, the traditional and the natural world all in one, which is why of all places I lived abroad, Shinjuku was the only one I felt a real connection with.  On this weekday, I had the cement river walkway all to myself.

Overlooking a pond in Shinjuku Gyoen during cherry blossom season

The pond and overlook temple above are in Shinjuku Gyoen, perhaps the most esteemed place to go to see sakura.  This park was within walking distance from my apartment and my favorite place to escape the city while still being in the heart of the city.  

Shinjuku Tokyo Japan light trails

The view I had walking home at night when I lived in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, Japan - Nikon D80 f/29 ISO 200 5 sec tripod mountedThis is a photograph from my archives, taken back in October of 2008 at the start of my DSLR shooting from when I lived in Tokyo, Japan.  I lived in the heart of the city, Shinjuku, and getting home required walking over a pedestrian bridge with a great view, day or night, but especially at night.  I brought my Nikon D80 with me and a tripod I had just bought allowing me to make light trail images like this one.  Note that the brake lights appear on the left side of the road, as Japanese drive on the opposite side to the U.S.

Have a Photography Philosophy Part 1 - make photos for yourself

One of my all-time favorite personal photos, man contemplating Tokyo - Nikon D80 Nikkor 50mm @ f/8 ISO 400 1/250th (notice early in my DSLR photography learning I used settings I would definitely not today!)Earlier today I came up with an idea for a new photography tip series entitled, "Having a Photography Philosophy," as there are intangible things that going into photography beyond mastering exposure and even composition.  One of my personal photography philosophies has always been, even from the very start of getting more seriously into photography, was to first and foremost make photographs for myself.  It also may surprise you that I even carry this philosophy into shoots I do for clients.  The way I see it, clients have browsed my portfolios.  Therefore, they must like what they have seen to have hired me.  Thus, if I make shots that appeal to me, as I have always done in the past, then the photos I make for the client now will appeal to them as well.  Of course not every shoot allows for such creative freedom, but when I make portraits for clients or photograph cars for clients, I make shots I think look cool.  I want the final shots to also be ones I like.  This philosophy balanced with client input I believe creates very successful final images.

In my personal shooting I entirely shoot for myself first and foremost.  I go out to make shots that I like.  If someone else happens to like them, that is great, but not necessarily important to me.  After all, if you do not even like the photos you are making, how can you ever expect anyone else to like them either?  

The photo in this post is one of my all-time personal favorites.  If I could only choose one photo to remind me of what my life was like in Tokyo, it would probably be this one.  I walked by this very spot almost every day, and like the man pictured, never ceased to stop and stare at all the action, all the craziness, all the life before me.  It was also one of the very first, if not the first shot I ever took with my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens that I bought in Bic Camera just to frame left.  So as you can see, this photo cannot possibly have the same amount of meaning to anyone else, which is why it is important to make photographs for yourself.

Bird's Eye View of Tokyo from Shinjuku Nikon Headquarters Black & White

Bird's eye view of Tokyo from Nikon Headquarters in Shinjuku - Nikon D80 Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 1/40thAll you see above I could navigate precisely on foot, by bike or on train, for this was my home neighborhood for six years.  Yet I never saw it from so high above until the very end of my time there.  If it looks like a maze I can assure you it most certainly was.  Passing through it on foot or by train was a constant series of turns, not just left and right, but also up and down in and out of stations, underground street passages and long, very long tunnels.  By far the fastest way to get from point A to point B was by bike, especially if one had the nerve to ride out in traffic, though by day or night I only ever found a section of about a quarter mile of road in that entire maze to be risky to ride on.

When friends visited it was a point of pride to lead them on a dizzying path through routes that took months to learn.  

I made this photograph from the Nikon Headquarters high up in a skyscraper in Shinjuku, the hub of Tokyo, if not its heart.  I lived a 10-minute walk from here, which in Tokyo walking time, is a short distance.  You could get hands on with every lens Nikon makes and also bring your Nikon DSLR in for a free sensor cleaning if it was still within warranty.  You were also treated to the view you see above.  I of course had to shoot through windows to make this shot.  I erased the spots on the windows visible in the sky portion of the photo.

If you can believe it, this place felt as much like home to me as any place I have ever lived.  

Try street photography for making memorable shots of cities

Street photography portrait of a girl on the streets of Takadanobaba, Tokyo, Japan - one of my personal favorite shots of all timeThe above photograph is one of my personal favorites that I have ever made.  It is the kind of photograph that may appeal only to the photographer who took it.  The reasons I can give for why it is a personal favorite would be, after all, personal.  I do not know the girl in the photograph.  I will never return to the city I made this photograph in.  However, they combine to make a photograph that reminds me of my time in Tokyo more than a photo of even Tokyo Tower.  Much of my time in Tokyo was spent out on the street.  In that city you walk, a lot.  You are also always surrounded by people on the streets.  In my last year there I bought my first DSLR and often had it with me.  I then realized I loved street photography.  I made this street photography portrait on one of the very first times I used my newly obtained Nikkor AF ED 80-200mm f/2.8D lens.  It was the first time to have a f/2.8 lens and immediately I was blown away by the bokeh it could make at f/2.8 and 200mm, and in particular the bokeh in this image.  I can still recall seeing this photo first pop-up on the review screen on the back of my Nikon D80.  It was the beginning of my street photography career.

So my photography tip is this:  to help you remember the city you are traveling or living in, try street photography.  Those images may come to have more meaning to you in the years that follow than the best landmark photograph you took. 

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  • Tokyo Christmas Lights Stranger's Kiss - street photography

    This is one of my personal favorite photographs - Location: Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan December 2008I can no longer remember what I saw and what I was thinking before I pushed the shutter to make this shot back in December of 2008 while I was still living in Tokyo, Japan and making daily trips to shoot in and around my tower apartment in Shinjuku.  I know I had been on to photograph some of the millions of Christmas lights in the city.  Japanese really, really like Christmas lights.  All of Tokyo is covered with them.  They refer to them as "illumination."  

    This night it was just me and my Nikon watching the thousands of people walk by watching the thousands of lights.  There is a comfort I feel when I am out with my camera, almost a kind of security, that I would not feel if I were just one of the others out enjoying the lights.  

    What do you see in the photo?  What of the two people?  Does it look like a couple about to kiss?  Actually, they were just strangers passing by and I happened to push the shutter just at the right instant to create the kissing illusion.  As I mentioned above, I can no longer remember if I intended to do this.  I am not even sure if I intended any people to be in the shot at all.  

    Nevertheless, this illusioned shot of a couple's kiss is one of my personal favorite shots because it makes me think and try to remember.  

    Tokyo Japan Skyscrapers - Roppongi Hills Tokyo Midtown Tokyo Tower

    Tokyo Tower (center) Tokyo Midtown skyscraper (right) - Nikon D300 with Tamron 17-50mm @ f/11 ISO 200 1/50th single exposure (not HDR)

    Yesterday I was going through my photography archives searching for a shot (daytime beach) that might be usable for a potential client when I came across these shots of the Tokyo skyline.  They were made from the balcony of a Russian photographer friend who had an amazing condo in central Tokyo.  All these shots are the views he gets to enjoy everyday!  If I recall, his condo was on about the 22nd floor.  The time was around 4:30pm in February of 2009, when the sun sets not so long after 5pm, which is why it already looks like dusk on this overcast day.  None of these shots are HDR, which was just starting to get popular again around 2009.  It is possible to get vivid detail and color without HDR if shooting during the best light of day.

    Tokyo Tower (left) Tokyo Midtown skyscraper (2nd from left) Roppongi Hills skyscraper (center-right) - Nikon D300 f/11 ISO 400 1/250th single exposure (not HDR)Just as my photography career was starting to take off in Japan, I was set to move back to Florida.  This was the last time I visited with my Russian photographer friend.  

    Tokyo Midtown is the middle skyscraper in the above shot and at the time was the newest mega-office-entertainment-shopping building.  The shops on the lower floors were great, if you had at least $500 for the cheapest item seemingly.  Roppongi Hills is the right-most skyscraper, and was the previous title holder of newest mega-office-entertainment-shopping building.  Roppongi Hills remained the far more interesting architecturally, and is home to the best movie theater I have ever been to.  

    Roppongi Hills in detail from up high - Nikon D300 with Nikkor AF ED 80-200mm f/2.8D lens @ f/11 ISO 400 1/160th single exposure (not HDR)I am glad to have these photographs to remind me of my last visit with a friend I am probably never going to see again.  I still follow his work on flickr (Vladimir Zakharov) as he never ceases to find new roof top views to photograph.