If you look through my portfolio on here or at my Instagram, it’s pretty obvious I rarely shoot in the dark. There’re multiple reasons: I work until 9, 9:30, then I’m hungry, then it’s 11pm and I’m in my apartment full of food being my most common excuse. Usually when I am out after dark it’s because I’m with people. People have plans. People get fed up of me stopping to take pictures of things. I usually want to hang out more than I want the photo anyway. Being dreadful at shooting in the dark is my number one thing to fix at the moment. Second being dreadful at portraits – more on that later I’m sure. So, when Cody invited me out shooting, I happily went along.
Around 8pm, Shinagawa station. Five people with cameras (IG: 1,2,3,4 and I) walking out into the night. I love that shit. It feels good. Freedom. For me a little out of the box given that I mostly shoot in the day so I can get home, make dinner for Yuka and listen to the JLPT practice tape about the woman who ate all the cheese for the thousandth time. Everyone else is primarily a night shooter – and a good one at that. Everyone else loves editing. Their pictures have that beautiful Tokyo neon going on. These are the right people to be out shooting in the dark with. Because for me it’s not actually about shooting in a group. If I want to shoot focused, ‘in the zone’, headphones in, music off – I’m alone. In a group I just wanna hang out. See who can spot the coolest shit. See who’s gonna go to the lengths for a shot (Cody, atop a vending machine down a backstreet behind a Minato-Ku industrial complex for a shot of Tokyo Bay). I wanna talk about life and listen to people. Take pictures of the group – something I failed hard on this particular night. A group of people who know where they’re going and why they’re going there. Most importantly people who are good company. Those are the people I want to shoot at night with.
I came away with a couple of pictures I’m pleased enough with – all of buildings and shinkansen passing through the night. Even after two and a half years in Tokyo I still love seeing the shinkansen moving through the city. I don’t know why. There’s just something so elegant about it. My favourite picture of the night came from an accidental 30 second exposure – fat thumbs in the dark – where the two constants in frame are the top of a skyscraper and the shinkansen heading into Shinagawa. When I hit the shutter and realised I’d messed up I figured I’d hold out and see what happened. Move the camera around a little. Hope for good light when the shutter closed. It’s far and away my favourite from the night and maybe one of my all time favourites. Coming back to the night shooting, to trying to improve, to just enjoying the night, to the process. It’s a photo made because I wanted to see what would happen if I rode the moment.
I never felt like I’d ‘missed’ a shot that night. I felt like I’d taken several steps towards getting shots in the future. After one good night out trying to improve that one aspect of my photography I am, of course, still awful at shooting in the dark. Auto shutter, 1600 ISO, f/8 doesn’t hold up when the only light is from a building across the river. But I love shooting at night the same as I love shooting in the day. The same way I love shooting in winter because the light is incredible, but still love shooting in rainy season for the faces and the umbrellas. I love shooting in central Tokyo business districts and the last few days I had a great time shooting on the beach in Guam.
I guess what I’m getting at is, as always, that I just love making photos – much more than I love photos. In 10 years I doubt I’ll look back at many, if any, pictures from 2017 and think ‘damn, this is my best work,’ but I’ll sure have enjoyed the process of getting them as much as I hope I’ll have enjoyed the intervening decade. And if in ten years I still love the abstract bullet train into Shinagawa, so be it. I had a good night. I got a little better. I met some cool people.
Shoot because you love it.
Tokyo, July 2017