The Story Behind The Picture: Sunset at Tokyo Skytree

I took this shot earlier this year in April 2017. It was during my trip to Japan, chasing over full bloom of cherry blossoms. For most part of my trip, the weather was cloudy and overcast throughout the day. The sky finally cleared on my last day in Japan, and I was happened to be in Tokyo. After checking through some recommendations on where to shoot for sunset, I decided to take a shot of the Tokyo Skytree during sunset blue hour.

I took a walk to the Jukken Bashi Bridge, it has a nice stream of river (Kitajukken gawa river) leading towards the Tokyo Skytree Tower. I picked my spot, setup the tripod and camera and waited for the nice light to come. I’m shooting with my Leica M-P Typ 240 with the Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH lens. For the scene, I decided to add ND filters (6 stops if I remembered correctly) and shoot bracketed shots instead. Sadly, 21mm lens simply not wide enough to capture the tower together with it’s reflection in whole. Anyway, I’ll just make do with what I have for now.

While waiting for the sun to set, an elder Japanese man stopped by besides me with his camera, I believe it’s an Olympus E-M5 or E-M1. While we both wait for the sun to set, he started to initiate conversation with me in Japanese. I can speak a little, so I just tried my best to understand him and respond accordingly. Sensing that I’m not local, he asked where I came from, when I told him Malaysia, he smiled and said that his grandfather was in Malaysia during the war, but he had never been there before.

Perhaps he felt a bit awkward for bringing up a rather sensitive part of the history. There was a moment of silence until I break the ice again by asking him whether he shoot often. We chatted a bit on photography and then he showed me some of the images he took. Then came another young man who stood beside us shooting the same scene. The elder man chatted with him as well while waiting for the sun to set.

We took our shots when the light was finally right. Later on, I decided to stay a little longer while the elder man started packing his stuff and prepared to leave. “Here, this is for you.” To my surprise, the elder man actually gave me a few prints he took of Mount Fuji. Lovely indeed. I thanked him for the nice souvenir and greeted him farewell.

Some say “music brings people of different languages and backgrounds together”, I believe “art” does. Music, drawings, sculptures, dance, photography and so on. Its very nice and heart warming to meet up with like minded people, especially locals, while travelling overseas. Hopefully I will get this kind of encounter in the future too.

The story behind the picture: Tokyo Tower

During my trip to Tokyo in March 2016, I wanted to capture the Tokyo skyline under sunset. I planned for a few possible spots, and I decided to try out shooting from Tokyo City View at Roppongi Hills. I dropped by the viewing deck early as I wasn’t familiar with the area and would like to do some scouting before deciding where to shoot.

After looking around, I decided on my composition and planted my tripod and camera, getting everything ready and setup for the shot. For this shot I’m mounting my Leica M-P Typ 240 with Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH. No filter was used as I will be pressing the lens as close to the window as possible in order to reduce the reflection and glare. Additional dark cloth was used to cover the lens to ensure all lights were cut out from reflecting on the window.

The sky wasn’t promising being cloudy and overcast, but I’ll just wait and hope for the best. While waiting for sun to set, another young man came and sat beside me with his camera and tripod as well. I gave him a smile and leave up some space for him. After being quiet for awhile, the young man said to me: “This is probably the first time I saw a Leica mounted on a tripod.”

We laughed about it badly. Thereafter, we started chatting while waiting for the sun to set. He came from Thailand and he mentioned that he was surprised that a lot of Thais travel to Japan. We talked about photography as well, and after awhile, another guy stopped by with his camera and tripod and seated right beside us. He’s Japanese, and he asked us in Japanese: “Are you guys coming for the diamond light up of Tokyo Tower as well?”

The Thai was puzzled as he couldn’t understand Japanese. I do understand what he said, but was trying hard to figure out what is “diamond light up”. The Japanese man then show us the Tokyo Tower website on his phone, with details on the light up for tonight and when the lights will come up and so on. Apparently, that day was 14 of March, which was “White Day” or “White Valentines Day”. It’s widely celebrated in Japan, but not in my home country. And on that day, there will be a special “diamond light up” on Tokyo Tower instead of the usual one.

The three of us started chatting while waiting. The Japanese said that he came specifically for the special light up, and we talked a bit about where to shoot, what to eat as well. I’m acting as a translator in between, it was really fun chatting with someone unknown while traveling aboard. You get to see their views, and we get to share our interest in photography together. When the sun set and lights up, everyone got busy and started shooting.

It’s very interesting to talk to people from different nationalities, face to face about photography, about traveling. Although we do not know each other, but the common interest between us has managed to connect us together at that point of time. Lovely indeed, and when I think back on that moment, I still feel a bit of warmth in my heart. It’s a memory that I will cherish for years to come.

Traveling with my Leica M-P

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I went to Hong Kong for a short trip earlier this month. It’s more of a relax trip than a photography trip. But of course, whenever I get to travel, I try not to waste the opportunity to snap some pictures as well. And I have decided to add some “stress” to my relaxation… that is to travel with my Leica M-P for the 8 days trip.

Traveling and shooting with a manual focusing camera may seems like a “mission impossible” to many. Yes, of course you are losing the convenience of auto focus, but that doesn’t mean to be the end of the world, or so I thought. So, I was embarked on a journey to find out the answer of whether I can actually survive traveling with a manual focusing camera. At the same time, I would like to see if I can crunch out pictures that are different from what I shot last year in Hong Kong.

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I brought along with me Summicron 35mm ASPH, Zeiss Planar 2/50mm and Tele-Elmarit-M 90mm f2.8. Basically these are my entire lens collection. Along the trip I managed to pick up a Super-Elmar-M 21mm ASPH to complete my lens collection. I traveled through streets, fishing village, hills and mountains and so on. I shot everything that interest me, ranging from streets, people, landscape and etc. with my M-P. I shot from wide open to f16. I shot with all the lenses in my bag. I tried to utilize every skills and knowledge I know about photography to plan and get the shot I want. In the end, I can safely conclude that: Yes, I can live with manual focus, even for oversea trip like this.

Of course there are some shots that are harder to take when you are shooting with manual focusing, unless your lens is set to hyper focal distance where you can literally just point and shoot. It just requires a little more effort from your end to pre-plan and visualize the shot, and wait for the moment to come. I do missed a couple of shots, either due to myself being too slow to react or I have dialled in the wrong setting/adjustment. Well, there’s no one else to blame other than… of course, myself.

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I’m carrying all the stuffs in my trustworthy Billingham Hadley Pro bag. Considering the weight of my setup:

  • M-P – 680g
  • Summicron 35mm ASPH – 255g
  • Zeiss Planar 2/50mm – 230g
  • Tele-Elmarit-M 90mm f2.8 – 225g
  • Super-Elmar-M 21mm ASPH – 260g

The weight of my full setup tops around 1.65kg excluding other accessories such as extra batteries, filters, shutter release and etc., and the fact that I can squeeze everything easily into my bag (there’s still room for water bottle!) has reassured my decision for investing in this system. If I were to bring my Fujifilm’s gear, I’ll probably ended up with the following items:

  • X-T1 – 440g
  • XF10-24 F4 – 410g
  • XF18 F2 – 116g
  • XF23 F1.4 – 300g
  • XF56 F1.2 – 405g

The weight of full setup will be around 1.67kg, similar to what I brought, but the size of the setup can barely squeezed into my bag. Well, end of the day is all about leveraging on compromization. If you want auto focus, versatility of zooms, you’ll lose in size or weight in return. As simple as that. Well, at least now I know that I have built up two very usable systems in my dry cabinet, which can cater to my shooting needs and change accordingly.

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My next trip will be re-visiting to Japan, but this time I’ll be heading to Tokyo instead. So which camera system should I bring along? Hmm… we’ll see 🙂