Medium format street photography in Tokyo

medium format street photography

Is it possible? Of course. I would argue that one have been sold way too many times the excuse that you would fare better with smaller cameras, like the Leica.

Vivian Maier shot on a Rolleiflex, a twin lens system that is so much harder to focus and looks pretty weird when you have two lenses pointing at you. Back then people knew it was a camera and there is nothing in that form that contributes to her infamous photos.

Leica rangefinders are louder than most of the Olympus, Fujis and Ricoh GRs that exist in the market and probably the largest of them all. Still we have current credible photojournalist and photographers that swears by it for street use.

medium format street photography
The Introvert, Pentax 645Z, 55mm f2.8, Tokyo

The answer is really our own acceptance of what we are comfortable with. A medium format camera should not prevent you from doing street photography.

Kawaii / Pentax 645Z, 55 f2.8, Tokyo

If you prefer B&W cause it has more soul or captures someone’s soul (darn are we back in the dark ages) , a medium format camera like the Pentax 645z gives you beautiful gradation and smooth tonal dof transitions.

Metro 1 pm, Pentax 645z 55 2.8, Tokyo

Make your own decision. I personally had a lot of fun shooting and using a medium format camera like the Pentax 645Z for portraits and streets and I am convinced that the suitability of any camera is defined by you.

Pentax 645Z, the new beginning

Spending many days at home with nothing but work opens up dialogues and self reflection that one could not imagine are possible.

I have not been buying any new gears for sometime now. It has been an amazing journey and like a speech given at obituary, I spend nights thinking about life, work and what exactly ticked me all these years.

I believe in slowing down, that is why i bought, sold and re-purchased several Leicas and used many film cameras. I believe in the invisible driving force of inspiration having value above a spec sheet. I do not subscribe to majority pressure or impression without having tried the tool myself, one of the reason why I still kept the Olympus PEN-F despite the reviews.

Medium format portraiture / Pentax 645Z 55mm / Pang Yi Ling / Kawaguchigo Japan

But above all else, I have always believe that having too many gears, just like having many chefs, spoils the meal, in this case, the very journey of what I wanted to experience in photography. Ironic, contradictory and a struggle that I have faced ever since my first camera in 2007.

Photography should be just like a relationship, a marriage that you undertake with your partner and watch her grow old, together, till death do us part. This was the missing commitment that I struggle to bring in to photography as a result, my collection grew and my obligation to use them becomes a distraction.

Pentax 645Z street photography
Medium format portraiture / Pentax 645Z 55mm, Tokyo

As I pondered on each and every gear I bought, the images I created with them, the friendship that I found with other photographers, models and the conversations that took place. I came to a conclusion that I could very much be able to carry out this journey that I always wanted, a transition from using whatever tools I already have, to just using ONE .

The choice of tool will be the Pentax 645Z that I left at the corner of the drybox (its too big to fit in) and all my other gears will now be in hibernation mode. I would begin to give some of them away. There will be only reduction from this point on.

Medium format portraiture / Pentax 645Z 55mm / Pang Yi Ling / Kawaguchigo Japan

I know how silly this is going to be especially bringing that medium format DSLR into every genre that I enjoy doing including Street photography but it is what it is. The soul searching is over. This beast will be that “one camera” for building muscle memory and the defining partner in bringing out all my artistic visuals into reality.

As the world recovers from Covid-19, each one of us should discover what is essential to each area of our lives. If you are into photography, it is Marie Kondo time.

The Ultimate Camera and other nonsense {sharing}

what is the ultimate camera
the ultimate camera
Finding the ultimate camera in a connected world

AI is at our doorstep now. This post is about cameras, but first let’s take an honest look at how many phones have you changed for the last 5 years. Why did you changed them? Could you have held on to any of them and not upgrade to the new phone?

What has this gotta do with Cameras?

The recent news on Huawei got many of us thinking. Is it viable to continue using a phone that would have no more updates within the next 3 months. Truth is most of us might be very happy indeed if the current apps we have remain as they are and we just keep on using them. But the ugly side of the connected world is that our apps consistently fuel the need to upgrade itself or it won’t even run.

Take whatsapp for example. It refuse to run and force you to do an update. What if you are not able to update like what will happen to Huawei Phone? You end up with a brick.

red and green portraits
Red & Green Currency

Resisting the dependency on Sofware

I wrote about GAS and how i broke out of it here. While that is true for my film cameras collection, it was significantly harder when it comes to Digital. As of that writing on overcoming GAS, I had 4 cameras exchanges done on Digital and 1 on Film. While I have successfully stopped the film GAS, It took me a while to settle on the Digital. When I said exchanges, that is because I swap my camera instead of buying more.

I am digressing. Now what has the Huawei, Software updates have to do with cameras? If you look at the recent innovation on digital Cameras, it is beginning to reach the golden age of its kind, just as film did in the 1970s . We now see the inclusing of AI into the cameras, this is bad news in many ways. For those who are now beginning to see the picture, AI are firmware upgrades that adds extremely useful functionality to your cameras, so much so that the gap between a film camera and a digital finally have a wide gap.

The problem is that it introduces the same dependency cycle we had on the phones to our Digital Cameras and this is bad news. Somewhere along the line you going to have Cameras whose AI would not upgrade further unless you have a hardware upgrade to support it.

Take a look Olympus E-M1x direction and Sony A6400 and the Sony A9/A73 firmware upgrades. It is the future and at some point in time, greedy manufacturers will apply the update cycle trick into the cameras lineup as market share continues to go downhill .

What do you do when your market share are small? How do you increase sales? By upselling.

Find the golden line

couples communications, portraits
Couples communications

Here is the thing. If you read so far and you have no idea what was the big deal, well, your right, nothing really happened to your life and your photography. But something is happening to everyone else around you.

The latest Sony eye-AF with AI is putting disruptions to the concepts of focus points and practicality. Try it. I did and as much as I hated GAS, I came to the conclusion it was not just silly but ignorance not to use eye-AF for portrait shooters. This is not the eye-AF that we need to place the focus point at and wait 1 second or use a live-view. The new eye AFs are game changing feature that removed the need to even set a focus point, if you are doing portraits and it allows crazy tracking.

Candid portraiture photography
Smile your on candid camera

At this point, all the other manufacturers are scrambling to catch-up with Sony new eye-AF. That is the good news. What we can do is find a camera model that have good enuf AI tracking for portrait and before they start putting in kill-switches for upgrades. I know this sound hilarious, but the A7ii users ain’t laughing, they were all left out of the updates.

Remember Acros, Fujifilm simulation, its just a stupid preset and Fuji didn’t add it to their X-Pro and X-T1 users and only open it for users of X-Pro2, X-T2, X-E3, X-T20, X-H1, and X100F. A preset needs new processor upgrade? sure Fuji.

We have enough of this shit.

model portrait film presets sony a6400
Sony a6400 / Amanda

The ultimate camera is the camera that can continuously get free updates from its manufacturer without changing hardware. Since that is impossible, there is none.

There are going to be a backlash in all these, checkout Phoblographer hilarious post about ending up at Pentax door. I am not laughing at his choice, but rather I already know this is not going to last long, end of the day you just have to cut thru the noise and settle down.

Tokyo Street Photography Guide

I am at Tokyo now as i share this guide. The weird thing is that when i started to google for street photography in Tokyo, i ended up getting a pile of links that often provide…no inspirational photos, it is as if it’s written just for bait.

In fact, some of the most inspirational images i found are in youtube instead of the top links in google. Here is one example of a good youtube video .

Now that i been here for a week, i have a few pointers to share.

1. Visit the parks

Veterans guide on street photography, yoyogi
The veterans

By george, there are so many parks in Japan and parks are usually visited by both tourists and locals alike. By all means, its a great place to do some shoot.

Tokyo street photography guide , yoyogi stop
On the way to Yoyogi Park

2. Make up your mind on what is street photography

Tokyo street photography, should contain people
Father & Daughter?

Street photography should be about people. There should at least be a person in your image when you take that shot. Tokyo have all kinds of people and the good news is that most of these people are Japanese, so unless you are at some hot tourist spots, you have plenty of Japanese to fill in the frame.

Tokyo street photography , dolls
Dolls in public

3. Visit Ginza on weekends

street photography guide for tokyo at ginza
looking cool while recovering

During weekend, central Chuo Dori street will be blocked from vehicle access. This means massive human traffic will be roaming this section of the street and that is exactly what we want for street photography.

If you are not sure where is Chuo Dori street, you can also look for the Ricoh Pentax building and you are in the right area. Do visit the Ricoh building, they often host interesting gallery at level 7 (which u need to pay 510 yen) or access level 8 for Ricoh Pentax shop. Level 8 also showcases the various film cameras of Ricoh Pentax and the prices back then.

tokyo street photography guide
korean tourists?

4. Time matters

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Shopping time!

tokyo street photography guide
sunrise Shinjuku

You need to pay attention to the 9-5 working hours time. This is because you will be using the rails too and you don’t want to be caught sandwiched in carriage while you try go get to your destination. Also if you are there early before these hours, you can watch the crowd grow in numbers and anticipate what kind of shots to take.

I didn’t take any Shibuya crossing photos because i have no idea what else i could take that could be interesting, but hey, thats me, you should go ahead and visit Shibuya. Here are some i took but didn’t capture the essence of the crossings.

Tokyo street photography guide, shibuya
Hold it

Tokyo street photography guide, crossings shibuya
Smoke-cycle

5. Watch the traffic section

Tokyo street photography guide, gotanda
A man gotto do what a man gotto do

I found myself often regretting putting the camera back into the bag when i am at the traffic junction or stop. Surprises lurks in every corner (or in this case, every stop) and you should get your camera ready.

tokyo street photography guide 101
Someone’s grandma on phone

There are also long trucks that can slow down and even stops at any junction because they have idols inside and doing a road promotion.

Tokyo street photography guide, idols
Cause i got the biggest camera, wuahaha!

IMGP3997
You take them, i took yours

6. Be confident

IMGP3673 1

Most japanese are friendly and live by the culture of being polite. Sometimes they can be camera shy and cover their faces when your camera is seen pointing towards them. During these whole week, i only had one old guy shouting to me “No photos!” at the Yakitori Alley near Shinjuku at night. Man, what a loser, if it wasn’t for bloggers that took and share photographs of their shops and grilled skewers, where did he think the customers came from. Duh.

Anyway, that was just one really isolated incident. Be brave and just shoot.

IMGP3680 1

Sometimes you will come across these smoking areas outside malls and streets. These scenes often present good photo opportunities. So do loiter around these locations especially in the pre 9 am or after 4.30 pm time range.

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Night at Shibuya

Tokyo street photography guide, street performers
A semi nude one punch man

7. Pay attention to Japan’s peculiar culture

IMGP3883
Teach the young about keeping the city clean and importance of nature

Japan have a very different set of culture and we see this reflected in many activities. This picture for example was taken just outside Gotanda, a bunch of kids are cleaning up the street and tending the public ground.

Tokyo street photography guide, street performers
Morning stretching

Japan is also an ageing country, so you will see a lot of over 60 years old folks still working and sometimes it can be heart wrenching to see them and be reminded of your own parents. It can be shocking too on how much these old people could walk so much between the subways and stairs.

So that is my guide for Tokyo, keep in mind this is my 3rd time in Japan shooting around and as i learn new things, i would share them in new articles.

ありがとうございました

Glasses {portraiture|medium format}

malaysia top portrait photographer

I wanted to write this piece after stumbling upon the story of this girl called Plaaastic. She died late last year, taking her own life after a series of what she would termed as being singled out by the universe for abuse.

(*all the images here are not related to plaaastic or anyone, they are taken by me for this illustration)

Looking at her instagram and content that she generates, i see a creative soul snuffed out of this world, an immature death. It’s hard to imagine how one can deal with a situation in life where you got betrayed by the one you loved, abused by parents, abandoned by friends, tried to stood up and reclaim her life only to be robbed on the streets.

Frankly after reading the part on her villain husband who was introduced to her by her photographer friend, i could only wonder, what an idiot he is.

This series of images is going to reflect the loneliness of such a life and the prison that one can be in. She is not alone, in the last few months, we have seen korean k-pop idols who took their own lives. One could never fathom the “why” but one could feel. I ended this series with a positive note, a hope and i hope those who feels trapped by these invisible walls, will find strength to stay on.

Glasses. A prison of the soul. 

You called out to those who seems so near. Yet they can’t hear you, your pleas and your plight found no one. Many are standing so near and yet the icy glass makes them so far.

Do we often create invisible barriers by our own decisions? A few steps to the right, a few to the left, are those steps all we needed for freedom. Do we walk right into another layer of glass even if we escaped this one?

malaysia top portrait photographer marcuslow

Draw strength by looking back! What if looking back we could only draw hurts and unlock hidden memories that are too painful to be held to our attention? What then, how can one continue the journey if every step taken in the past only draws us back to darkness.

Peace. What one took for granted, is priceless to some. Unattainable, remote, like stranger that does reply no matter how much we calls out to.  Each waves that swept over us are waves of disappointment.

But, then, we realize something. We could be happy. What if we are not trapped, but we are merely worthy of harder challenges in life to move us further up.

malaysia outdoor top portrait photographer marcuslow
enlightened

What if those who are actually trapped are these same people over the other side of the glass? People who are complacent and happy without direction nor purpose. Celebrating around a little fire that they started, unaware of the reality of life on the other side. Unable to offer help, they became like the deaf and mute.

freedom

Life is not a series of chance and tragedy. Life is about free gifts that are given to us, breath given to this Universe so that we could play a part in it, to experience Love and His great plan.

It cannot rain forever.

Kim {portraiture}

Invited a friend of mine for an outdoor portrait shoot at the popular Petaling Street. A group of friends requested that i organize this shoot for a friendly rate for the model. Since i don’t organize for fees, i just do the transportation and took a few shots while the group event took place.

Just sharing some of the images that i took during the shoot. The model is Kim Goh from Penang, i met her in 2013 when she participated in Miss Malaysia 2013 and was selected for the finals.

It been 5 years since and as the saying goes, Class is forever, beauty is temporal, Kim could easily carry out the portrait shooting successfully.

Enjoy the images.

Follow my instagram for  more images : marcus_low

outdoor portraiture guide kim
when u enjoy being with urself

kim goh outdoor portraiture marcus low
amber stripes

outdoor photography marcus low best malaysian photographer
that look

malaysia top outdoor portrait photographer marcus low
i don’t mind your ride

malaysia best photographer marcus low outdoor
kim + rolleiflex

marcus low photography outdoor
kim + rolleiflex

malaysia important outdoor photographer marcus low
it’s me

kim goh outdoor photography with marcus low malaysia
Love + Vintage

Overcoming GAS { guide}

For many years I’ve been struggling with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and some form of denial on this subject.

Occasionally I would even give sound advice to similar folks that I had encountered with the same symptoms. Heck, I might have written similar notes on this problem all the while being an addict to it.

Overcoming gas in Malaysia
The must have item

Our mind are truly instruments of awe and wonders. My mind would cook up various reasons why I needed that camera, that lens, one day it can be due to better bokeh, next month it is because of size, then comes that Leica glow, the list goes on and on.

Here is a list of excuses, maybe you might find some of these to be familiar :

– inspirational tool

– back pain

– corner sharpness

– wider is needed

– saves me money cause I would have bought Y that cost 3x the price

– fps I needed that for capturing natural portraits or moving subject

– most of my buddies are using brand X, we could share

– compression shots, I need that telephoto

– this build quality will last me a lifetime unlike that one

– this sharpness and micro contrast makes all the difference

– the shutter is so much more subtle (even though the current camera have electronic shutter)

– discreet on the street

– evf so I won’t be blinded

Cause Vivian Maier uses it

Coincidentally I notice that everytime I acquire the gear, I would go out and do some shooting to justify the purchase. Did the new gears helped with my photography, maybe…. Could I have done better with the other gears already in the collection, of course!

Like the war between the Jedis and the Sith Lords, the force is a tension that exist because of actions favoring one side of the equation and it seeks to balance it. That is why Luke decided to avoid keeping in touch with YL camera or eBay is the best decision.

Ha ha ha, ok that was just nonsense, but I hope u get the point. The endless cycle begins when we desire something that we believe would contribute to our happiness index in photography only to realize that the problem has nothing much to do with gears.

My dragon is better than your M6

Don’t get me wrong, good gears are essential in achieving good results, some photogs have been shooting kit lens and wonder why they can’t get any bokeh yet all the while refusing to get a bigger aperture lens. That is just silly.

However, when you already have cameras and lenses that could perform well within your genre and your mind keep selling you that next gear… You have a case of GAS.

Bow before the most advance rangefinder with F1

There is a special incident that kind of woke me up to look into the mirror closely. I had a friend that ammased tons of film cameras, particularly large formats, pack films and Polaroids bodies. One day his favorite 35mm Leica m3 fell to the ground while we were chatting at a cafe and that broke something in him. The next day he went on to make a listing of his inventory and put them on sale.

That incident didn’t stop my GAS but I became more self aware of the situation. Buying lesser and imposing more red tapes to my mental process of buying. I setup some items to sell off in Carousel and realized how hard it was to sell off gears that I easily acquired.

Those common lines in the thought process of “get it, you need it, you only live once, it doesn’t cost much anyway” were slowly replaced with “I rather spend it on experience or going to more interesting places. Shoot more. I could buy 100 rolls of film and do 100 session instead of buying that”.

They are useless in the dry box. Take them out (mixed owners)

The last gear I acquired was the F2-DS which I used as a prop repeatedly rather than a gear and it’s been the longest time now without any new GAS lining up.

A collection of books can be shared

I guess everyone have their own poison on what they want to collect. I m just betting that we would stop collecting if we realize the futility of it.

There was once an argument between two business men on who deserves to sit next to the king for dinner.

The first man exclaim “I have in my collection, 2000 watches handmade by the finest craftmen in the region. Surely my display of wealth and taste in quality deserves my seat next to His majesty”

The second man countered “I have acquired 100 limited edition cars of which 30 are anniversaries release. I could easily sell half of these and I could build a theme park if I wanted”

The king looked at the two and seems reluctant to give a decision. He then asked a random guy in the crowd “How about you, do you collect anything?”. The guy replied “I have bought but a collection of books and wines so that I could share with guests and visitors”

The king chose the guy to be seated next to Him. The two other business men were furious and the king explained “your collections serves no one except yourselves, while this guy’s collection brought other’s joy”