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  • Cutting Through the Chaos: how to capture moments of calm in the world’s biggest city

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    Inspired by the likes of William Eggleston, Saul Leiter, and Alex Webb, travel and urban photographer Lukasz Palka lives in Japan capturing all aspects of the Tokyo Metropolis – from the people to the infrastructure and the endless stories that unfold on the city’s streets.

    Living for over a decade in Nikon’s home city, he knows Tokyo like the back of his hand, and as a NIKKOR enthusiast, he knows our lenses too. When we wanted someone to capture the essence of Tokyo with our telephoto and zoom lenses to celebrate our 100th anniversary, we knew he was the perfect fit.  

    By Lukasz Palka

    umbrella, Tokyo, photography, lights, city, lenses
    ‘ Umbrella’ Nikon D5 + NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 @ f/5.6 | 330 mm | i/250s | ISO 160 © Lukasz Palka0

    Orderly chaos in the streets

    What better way to explore any new destination (or even my own home!) than by foot. One thing I love about living here is the beautiful chaos of the city, especially when crossing the street. In Tokyo, a city that never stops, no two moments are ever the same.

    In the heart of Tokyo is the busiest crossing in the world, the famous Shibuya Crossing. At any one time, there are hundreds of people walking across it, but in a calm and orderly way. I wanted to capture one subject standing out from the rest, one person in the midst of chaos. This was a low-light shot and a fast-paced environment, so it required a precision lens and careful framing. Using the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, I homed in on just one person as they were crossing the road. The long lens allowed me to narrow my field of view and focus on details and interesting juxtaposition.

    One subject stands apart from the rest at the busy Shibuya Crossing in Toyko, a solo figure in the midst of chaos. Photographed by Lukasz Palka.
    Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo. D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR | 1/160 sec | 40mm | ISO 3200 | © Lukasz Palka

    Moments of calm

    I also love to capture peaceful moments of calm. This led me to shoot Tokyo Tower, the most iconic building in the metropolis.

    Patience is key. I waited all week for an evening with a gorgeous ‘blue hour’ when the city was enveloped in an atmospheric haze. I chose to photograph it from the roof of the nearby Mori Tower, where the rules are strict: they only let you bring one camera, one lens, and no tripods. Shooting from a higher vantage point meant I could capture the warm tones of Tokyo Tower contrasting nicely with the ghostly blue hues of the city.

    The Tokyo Tower, enveloped in an atmospheric blue haze. Photographed by Lukasz Palka.
    Tokyo Tower, Tokyo. D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR | 2 sec | 50mm | ISO 100 | © Lukasz Palka

    Focusing on the details

    The power of telephoto and zoom lenses also helps you attune your eyes to focus on certain details or subjects. I love exploring the dingy back alleys of Tokyo, which are run-down but vivid and colourful. Given the low light conditions, the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens was great for this. The lens’ widest aperture is f/4, however it’s equipped with excellent VR, which allowed me to get a tack sharp shot even in such low light conditions. This is important to me as my goal is to get crystal clear and sharp details.

    A run-down but vibrant and colourful back alley in Tokyo. Photographed by Lukasz Palka.
    Back-alley of Tokyo. D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR | 1/80 sec | 24mm | ISO 3200 | © Lukasz Palka

    Moments of tradition in a modern city

    One thing I love about Tokyo is that, whilst it’s a busy modern city, there are pockets of tradition within that create interesting juxtapositions. I had been photographing a monk wearing an iconic Japanese hat, or Kasa, all day from various angles. Eventually, I positioned myself across the wide main street in Ginza, and noticed he was standing in front of an advert for hats. Luckily, I had the 80-4mm equipped so I could get a tight frame from across a four-lane road. I captured this shot in the moment: the monk in front, and the modern hats behind.

    A monk wearing an iconic Japanese hat, or Kasa, standing in front of a modern hat shop. Photographed by Lukasz Palka.
    Ginza, Tokyo. D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR | 1/250 sec | 400mm | ISO 720 | © Lukasz Palka

    By foot or by metro

    The Tokyo metro is the embodiment of both chaos and order. Trains pull in and out of the station every minute, and thousands of people flood the platform, yet, somehow, everything runs on schedule. I wanted a shot that reflected this, with a train rushing past an isolated conductor. The NIKKOR lenses gave me loads of options in terms of focal length and composition to capture the bright yellow of the Ginza line. Having a light and varied kit means you can capture any moment – no matter if you’re close to the subject or far away.

    A yellow train rushes past an isolated conductor. Photographed by Lukasz Palka.
    Tokyo Metro. D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR | 1/40 sec | 35mm | ISO 800 | © Lukasz Palka

    What’s in my kitbag

    Needless to say, when you’re out walking and exploring a city for a long time you want lightweight, suitable gear. Considering I spent a week shooting for Nikon, comfy shoes along with a light kit (one body and one versatile lens) were a must.

    For this shoot, I used the following equipment:

    You can find out more about Lukasz’s work with Nikon on Cutting Through the Chaos here.

    Born in Poland, raised in the US, and residing in Japan since 2008, Lukasz is an award-winning photographer specialising in capturing the many aspects of the Tokyo Metropolis; its people, infrastructure, and the endless stories that unfold in the city’s streets. He is the co-founder of EYExplore Inc., a company based in Japan providing photo adventures and tutorials in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. His photography work is aimed at one goal: a personal portrait of a great city. His inspirations lie in the likes of Saul Leiter and Alex Webb, and science fiction works such as Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. You can check out more of Lukasz’s work here: https://www.lkazphoto.com/