Smoker in Shibuya, Tokyo
© 2013 Alfie Goodrich. All rights reserved.

The Smoker: Shibuya, Tokyo

I was out shooting a job for a client last week and after I was done, I spent a little time around Shibuya Crossing because the light was so good.

I didn't have much gear on me, just specific stuff I'd taken out for the shoot: 300mm f4, 80-200mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8

I read and hear a lot of stuff about the topic of shooting telephotos in the street. The purists always say 'nothing longer than 90mm'. People typically call it voyeurism to shoot with a long lens. I have been called a voyeur many times. I usually point out that 'voyuer' in French means simply 'someone who sees or watches'.

I don't care for listening to purists and I don't really care to be told what I can't or shouldn't do in the street with my camera. I personally think the majority of the hardcore 'street photography' crowd are so far up their own backsides with their definitions of what is or isn't street, what is allowed or frowned upon, what is hip or not.. that there is no way back to just being someone who sees or watches.

One of the biggest arguments about teles from the street purist is that they take you away from the action, remove you from getting close and experiencing your subject.

Right. Like the Hubble Space Telescope has removed us from getting up close and experiencing the galaxy?

Sure, it would be nicer if we could all be in a spaceship looking through the window, right up close to the Crab Nebula. But that isn't possible. So we use whatever is to hand - the Hubble, my 300mm lens - to enjoy the view we can.

I feel part of the moment with this smoker in Shibuya because he appears close to me looking through my lens.

I don't need to smell his breath to feel like I am part of his moment.

Many times getting close, as the street gurus call it, is [IMHO] getting so close that you become part of the moment. I don't want that all of the time. Sometimes I like to stay off a little way and peer into a moment of life and record it without interrupting it.

I am not a peeper. I am not intruding on anyone's life with a 300mm than someone who is shooting a 28mm on a Leica, right up close.

I very often [if I want to or feel it is necessary, or have the chance to] engage personally with my subjects after I have shot the photo.

For many of them seeing the photo I have taken is not a shock in terms of their having been intrude on. One woman once said to me 'that's the first time I have seen that expression of mine'. She was happy I'd taken the shot because she had gotten the chance to see a moment in her life from the outside.

I like everyday life and sometimes I like capturing it from afar. To me it's like watching a movie with the volume turned down.... the action we can see unfolding like a ballet.. noiseless, tranquil.

Bottom-line is, I like doing what I like doing with whatever gear I have to hand. There really aren't any rules with 'art'. As long as I am respecting my subjects, engaging with them when I can, smiling at them... being human and dignified and treating them with the same respect... what does it matter if I am doing it from 2metres or 200?

Gear and processing?
Nikon D700
Nikkor 300mm f/4
Shot in black and white
Run through the 'exposure equalization' filter in Topaz to drop back some of the highlights and balance out the exposure a little.


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  1. love it. and nice back/"hair"lighting 🙂

  2. Totally the reason I was at this very spot, +holger feroudj : the backlight 🙂

  3. It really makes the photo for me. Besides from the nice isolation of this guy and the fact that he's smoking (I'm a sucker for photos of people who are smoking), of course 😉

  4. Agree +Alfie Goodrich The first lesson you gave me you let me use your 80-200 and we were shooting at Ginza. Totally changed the way I thought about shooting street. I was never anti-tele before that but I had never tried it until then. It was a great experience to see the action unfold without interrupting it.

  5. Thanks +andrew holian. For sure it's a different look: compressed perspective, tunnel-vision.. selected action rather than the whole picture you get with a wide. But I just don't see why some people get so incensed about teles in the street. I'll use anything to get the pic I want. It just depends on what specific pic I want as to what specific piece of gear I use. I don't use a tele to shy away from interacting with people and when you are learning to break your cherry with people photography, sometimes the tele can help you get the confidence: start far, move closer.

  6. A good image is a good image. That’s it!

  7. +Alfie Goodrich too much free time on their part? I dont know why anyone gets so worked up about anything like that. Anyways, we are the guys who were shooting with an 1500mm equivalent lens in Ginza (D7000 x 1.5converter x 500mm f4). We should upload those shots! That would make their heads explode!

  8. Yep… in that folder on my hard-drive now in fact 🙂

  9. I agree in your opinon and the shot is superb !

  10. Neil Crick

    I want to pick up on something you said Alfie: “I am not a peeper. I am not intruding on anyone’s life with a 300mm any more than someone who is shooting a 28mm on a Leica, right up close.” and “being human and dignified and treating them with the same respect…”.

    I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments, which brings me to my pet peeve with “guerrilla” street shooters. I have seen them in so many places in Tokyo just lying in wait, then jumping out with a WA (and sometimes flash) and shooting in someone’s face, then legging it, chimping into an alley. I’ve seen how shocked, angry and upset some “subjects” can get after the experience. It often made me angry as a photographer and as a foreigner to witness this.

    If we can’t practice our art without showing respect, then it’s not art it’s intrusion bordering on assault.



  11. That is killer … love how it looks like the crowd is dividing just to give you a glimpse of this guy. I bet he'd love to see this photo. He looks hardcore.

  12. Thanks man. Sadly I didnt get chance to show him, +Leslie Taylor as he was gone pretty quickly. That obviously is one drawback of the tele: if the people aren't walking towards you then it's tough to cover the distance and get to them to show them the photo. However, that said, there are plenty of times I have not necessarily had the chance to show someone a pic even when it's been shot close-up.

  13. And, P.S. +Leslie Taylor : I was patiently waiting [camera up at face, framed and ready] for the crowd to part.. 🙂 Which eventually, for a brief moment, they did.

  14. I love this… I call this "fishing with a camera"

  15. It's all fishing, +Francesco Gallarotti : with a wide it's 'trawling' the street. The tele is more like finding a good spot, sitting with the right bait and waiting… 🙂

  16. I cannot imagine using just 90mm for street photography…when I was in Tokyo I always used 200mm as much as possible.  As you wrote above Alfie, I used the same technique of finding a good spot and just staying there.  I liked though to make closeup almost headshot style street photography photos so using a long lens was necessary.

  17. Thanks for the comment +Jason Collin .It's not a coincidence that the hardcore street shooting crowd [mostly Leica folk] evangelises about 'nothing longer than 90mm'… as that's as far [with the exception of the 135/3.4 Leica lens] as the rangefinder coupling goes. One drawback of rangefinders is no long lenses. Hence, that crowd have developed a mantra to fill the gap. 🙂 I'm not suggesting rangefinders aren't a great tool of choice for specific work. It's just that I would say that I don't diss one technique just because my camera isn't capable of it.

  18. oso = took off my glasses: hooks, raging lions battling over two nuns

  19. Sounds more like night-time in Shibuya than 3pm in the afternoon, +Christopher Stapleton 🙂 

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