TOKYO RED a family trip with a side of photography

This trip was for our kids

Our 22-year-old son and our 13-year-old daughter are the absolute best of friends. They couldn't be closer, and one of the things they share is their love of Japanese Anime (animated movies and cartoons) and Manga (Japanese cartoon books which you read from back to front). They love these big time, and we knew taking them to Japan would be a "trip to the mothership" and that's precisely how it turned out. For them — hands down, best trip ever. For mom, dad? The same. Seeing our kids have so much made it one of the best trips ever.

Of course, I brought my camera

This wasn't a shooting trip — this was a family vacation, but of course, I still brought my camera, although I only really went shooting a few times over our ten days there. There were many days where I didn't take my camera with me at all, and a few times I did that I never took a shot. Our first two days were spent at Tokyo Disneyland (which is fantastic by the way and has arguably the best of all Disney parks, called "Tokyo Disney Sea" which is based on seaports around the world, and it's incredibly well done).

Those Red Gates you always see on Instagram

Once we were in Tokyo, one morning I got up early and visited the Hie Shrine in Nagatachō, Chiyoda, Tokyo to shoot it's 'red gate tunnel.' The famous red gate tunnel (the one you often see on Instagram) is actually in Kyoto, Japan and I had considered taking a train out there one morning (about 2-1/2 hours each way), but during my pre-trip research I found that it had a smaller version of the famous red gate tunnel at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, which I had considered taking a train trip out just to shoot it. I thought if this were similar enough, it would save me the trip (I had been to Kyoto before — just not to shoot the red gates).

I had read it opens at 5:00 am, and if you get there early, you'll miss the throngs of tourists. I was already waking up really early (thanks to the 13-hour time difference between my home in Florida and Toyko) and so I got there plenty early (about 6:00 am). When I arrived, I was the only person there for about 20 minutes. After a while, some locals came by the shrine to pray, and eventually, a couple of photographers showed up as well. We'll start with a shot of the red gates.

Here's Tokyo's version of the red gate tunnel.
Here's the behind-the-scenes shot from my iPhone of my Canon EOS R Mirrorless shooting down the red gate tunnel. This tunnel is the exit down to street level at the back of the shrine.

The following set of photos are all taken at the shrine. I went mostly for simple details shots (rather than a bunch of shots trying to capture the entire shrine temple) because that simplicity of design and great use of vibrant color (very often bright reds and blacks) is what I'm drawn to.

Here's I'm using my Platypod to get down low for this shot of the temple shrine itself.
Getting there before the crowds is awesome and got me a glimpse and shot of something you wouldn't see later.

Simplicity in the Details

Like I said, I'm drawn to the little details, and there were awesome little details all over the shrine. This is where I switched to my 70-200mm to get these closer up shot.

More detail shots from the shrine (and another famous shine in a shopping area of Tokyo)

OK, I didn't see this coming…

I did not expect to get up early one more to take a trip to a Catholic church while I was in Tokyo. Well, that was until I ran across St. Mary's in my research one morning. The original classically-designed church burned to the ground during World War II, but it was rebuilt in the mid-1960s but with a very modern architectural design (seen below), and it looked so cool I wanted to get a few shots myself. Just a quick taxi ride; I popped out; walked right into the church; shot for a bit there inside and out, and then hopped a taxi back to the hotel for my day out and about with the family.

Some Black and White Fine Art Architectural Shots of the Church

I've been doing a fair bit of black and white fine art architectural photography lately, and while I had already been shooting some skyscrapers in Tokyo, this church had such a unique modern design, I decided to do a few there as well.

The modern exterior of the church
This is the church's standalone bell tower.

More Black & White Fine Art Architectural Shots From Tokyo

This fine art style of shooting and post-processing, made popular by wonderful architectural photographer Julie Anna Gospodarau, inspired me to shoot more modern architecture and Tokyo is a perfect place for it. I've come up with my own simplified method and I can do the entire post-processing part in around 2-1/2 minutes from start to finish (I'm taping a KelbyOne online class on my version this week, so it will be online in a just a few weeks). Anyway, here are a few of my shots from Tokyo in this style. These are all taken in broad daylight (some with an ND filter), and one from a moving taxi through the front window of the cab, all taken with a 16-35mm f/4 lens.

Here's where all the tourists are

Besides the famous Shibuya crossing (the busiest intersection in Tokyo) I didn't feel crowded at all in Tokyo, except there and here — the famous Nakamise shopping street and Senso-ji temple. It was super-packed full of people, which is where I got the shots below.

How to avoid all the tourists in your shot? Just shoot above their heads. In this shot, however, you lose all the scale (the lantern is huge!).
Ahhhhhh, now you can see the scale, and in this case, I think you actually need the crowd — not only to show scale, but to help tell the story. I love the shot taking a photo to the right of the lantern.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Kalebra absolutely loves gardens, and so on a day tour we made a special trip to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (which was very near our hotel), and it was just beautiful. Three gardens in all; a French garden, an English garden, and a traditional Japanese garden; all smack in the middle of town (much like Central Park in New York). Here's a few shots from there.

I know; this looks like the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, but it's in the French gardens section of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

I only got two shots at night.

Had it been a photo trip, I would have been out shooting at night a lot. Well, that and the fact that I was exhausted at night thanks to the 13-hour time difference. Tokyo really shines at night, and one night after a family night out singing Karaoke I snapped a few shots on the street. Kalebra actually got a way better shot with her iPhone — her framing and timing were spot on. I got two shots. They're kind of 'meh' but don't let that deter you from shooting Tokyo at night — it's incredible, and a missed opportunity shooting wise, but I wouldn't trade it for the fun we had all hanging out together and singing Bon Jovi at the top of our lungs.

Thanks for letting me share my trip with you.

Tokyo is a magical place. Clean. Safe. Fascinating. Fun. The Japanese people were incredibly friendly, helpful and kind everywhere we went. The subways and trains were clean, super-efficient, on-time, and inexpensive. In fact, eating and most everything in Tokyo was reasonably priced — kind of like New York. There are certainly restaurants where you could spend $400 for dinner, but more often than not, lunch or dinner for two was $16 to $20 total. Most often, our dinners in Tokyo (at casual restaurants, not fancy places) cost about what dinner at Chilis in our hometown costs, which was surprising. Maybe it's because we were expecting everything to be so expensive, that it was a pleasant surprise to find out it really wasn't.

This shot, taken from the Tokyo SkyTower Observatory, shows just one small part of Tokyo. It is vast!

The one thing that was expensive (and it was crazy expensive) were taxis and Ubers (yes, they have Uber, but only Uber-Black. Lyft, which I prefer, isn't in Tokyo yet). Tokyo is a HUGE city (see above); spread out like Los Angeles, and often times places you wanted to visit were 25 or 30 minutes away by car, and that cost a bundle — as much as $70 each way, so you're much better off to take the same trip by Subway ($5 each way). So, for the four of us, it was more like $40 round trip, instead of $140. Subways are the way to go in Tokyo.

This was my third trip to Tokyo, and my most fun yet. The kids had a ball, Kalebra and I had a blast all the way around; I got to shoot a few shots here and there, and thank you for letting me share them here with you.

Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita!

CAMERA INFO: All photos (unless otherwise noted) taken with a Canon EOS R Mirrorless full-frame body with a 16-35mm f/4 lens or a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Camera support: Platypod Ultra and a Gitzo travel tripod, with an Oben BE-117 ballhead. Black Rapid Classic camera strap. Think Tank Turnstyle 10 V 2.0 sling camera bag.

Created By
Scott Kelby


Copyright 2019 Scott Kelby. All rights reserved. 

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