Early morning, Shinjuku. Really early – 05:05 and I’m already on the streets.
Of course, I blame jetlag but the truth is that several decades of living in Africa have left their imprint; I sleep when it gets dark and wake as dawn arrives. At home, there’s always things to do. In a tiny hotel room, with one’s spouse still fast asleep, my options are limited and none of them includes the bright light from a computer screen, TV or sound. I’ve got a brand new X100 to play with. That might be a better option.
So, expecting to be rising early, I’d charged batteries overnight, imported yesterday’s images into my software of choice and then copied all the RAW files to a standalone drive (just in case). My well travelled and trusty Crumpler was packed and ready, a rain jacket rolled up into its maw, all I needed was the wake up. No problem there.
I’m warmly dressed; last week Tokyo hit the 20s (Celsius). This week, the temperatures aren’t expected to reach half that and an hour before dawn the digital thermometer at Shinjuku station shows 4C. I’m glad of a light fleece and a goose down outer shell.
Side note: packing for travel has become increasingly difficult in recent years. It took a while, but clothing technology has finally caught up and it is now possible to cater for warm, temperate, cold and freezing temperatures with a single selection of clothing. Admittedly, you won’t win prizes in GQ, or Vogue, but you will be comfortable and you won’t be cold – for me, a real impediment to creative shooting.
So, it’s chilly, but a few minutes brisk walking will soon solve that.
Heading west, past the end of Shinjuku station, under the bridge that carries the rail tracks, I’m looking for an area a few hundred meters away that I’d spotted on Google Maps last evening. As I leave the main streets and take a side road, I realise how early it is in the day cycle of the city, how few people are about, how dark it is and inevitably, wonder just how smart this expedition might be after all.
I needn’t have worried. This is Tokyo.
Onwards, around the next corner and I discover the cemetery I’d seen on the satellite view. I’ve set the X100 to Auto ISO – something I’ve not tried before – max at 3200, slowest shutter speed 1/60th and set the aperture at f2.8.
The walls around the cemetery are high enough to stop (clearly) unwanted eyes and the locked gates meant my dawn light plans got no further.
On towards the neighbouring residential streets, a bit of chimping shows that I’ve not set the Auto ISO up properly and the resulting shutter speeds are way too slow for my increasingly unsteady six decade old hands. I fiddle in the dark and hope the results will improve, making a mental note to try and find something to brace the camera on until dawn and a bit more light arrives.
It’s now 05:30 and as I wander the tiny streets, I spot a man sitting in a laundry, gazing at his cell phone, oblivious to me just a couple of metres away. Thankfully, whatever I’ve adjusted grabs a great shot, the condensation on the window and the solitude of it all. Later, I check and see that the fluorescent lighting in the shop had meant I’d got 1/60th @ f2 – perfect.
Around the next corner, a tiny car park. The X100 really seems to excel at this, scavenging light where I can only see pitch darkness and coping with the highlights of a few streetlights and illuminated signs. Clearly, I’d asked a bit too much of the Auto ISO, however as the shutter speed had sagged to 1/15th. Fortunately, I found a fence post to brace the camera on.
Another car park – they seem to emphasise the isolation and chill of the hour so well.
A few paces further, I find an alleyway leading to yet more homes. A single streetlight illuminates the partly overgrown, muddy path and inevitable bike, waiting for it’s owner to head off to work once more. Idly, I ponder how families move in and out of these tiny spaces, with furniture, fridges and washing machines.
Dawn has arrived and I’m about to turn back for coffee and some breakfast. A Nissan stops me. Not on the street, but parked in a narrow driveway, it’s rear end half a metre up on a step, the car looking like an eager child waiting to slide down a ski slope.
Almost back at Shinjuku, I’m stopped again by something I didn’t expect – a Mini, parked in the entrance to an underground garage. I shoot it as is, leaving the result in colour – that pretty much makes the whole morning worthwhile. Apologies for the repeat – it just needs to be here 😉
Close to the hotel, the sun brushes the nearby buildings, washing them with primary colours as the day arrives. I think I’ve got Auto ISO sorted by now – the shutter got this at 1/1250, f2 and ISO 400 – it looks great.
In fact, the X100 has three options for Auto ISO I can set and I decide to do just that. I leave the minimum shutter speed at 1/60th, set the first max at 800, the second at 1600 and the final one at 3200. We’ll see how those work out.
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Very nice piece, Paul! I am surprised, though, that you could find a place and time in central Tokyo when things are that quiet, I never could. But your ability to capture the mood of a place and convey it through photography never ceases to delight me.
And don’t expect not to notice that you chose to stay right next to Tokyo’s red light district. You know, just the other side of the tracks. On one side, the great buildings and head offices. On the other, small alleys. And on both sides, life never really stops.
Again, great stuff!
…and on the other side, the gay district, where I found myself on our penultimate night in the city. Mrs P was already a flu sufferer and asleep. I was out photting, having had a fine (but solo) Chinese supper a little earlier. Finding myself in that place was not going to produce the quiet nightcap I sought ;-(