Street Photo Editing in Tokyo

A couple months ago I made my first video tutorial about how I edit my street photographs. I get lots of questions on this topic so it's my pleasure to finally share my process with those who are interested. This is the first video and, though I've put it off for a while, there are mot to come!

Check it out on the EYExplore YouTube channel.

Where Should I Focus?

A common question we get on our photo workshops is ‘where do I focus?’ When the subject is obvious the answer is easy—focus on the subject! But this question more often comes up in the context of urban landscape and architecture photography. So, let’s narrow the focus of this article to that genre and go into some focusing techniques as well.

Focused on the crossing barrier with a medium aperture (f/5.6) which allows enough DOF to keep the train in focus as well

Focused on the crossing barrier with a medium aperture (f/5.6) which allows enough DOF to keep the train in focus as well

First a bit about Depth of Field

To answer the question of where to focus, we must first understand Depth of Field, or DOF. A quick overview of DOF: the aperture setting affects how much of the scene will be in focus. A common misconception (held surprisingly often by clients on our workshops) is that some apertures are used for close focusing and others are used for focusing on distant objects. This is incorrect! Any aperture can be used to focus at any distance. Instead, what the aperture affects is how ‘deep’ the focus is.

Essentially, a wider aperture (smaller f number, such as f/2) will result in a shallow DOF. A narrower aperture (bigger f number, such as f/16) will result in a deeper DOF. Keep in mind that ‘deeper’ does not mean farther ‘away from the camera.’ Rather, it means farther away from the point of focus.

The second thing that affects DOF is the focus distance that the lens is set to. For example, if I focus on an object 30 centimeters in front of the camera, the DOF might be from 28 centimeters to 36 centimeters. This means the focus area is only about 8 centimeters in depth. However, if I focus on an object 5 meters away, the DOF might be between 2 meters and 8 meters, resulting in a DOF of 6 meters. Keep in mind, this is regardless of the aperture setting—the closer you focus, the narrower the DOF will be.

Of course, these two effects operate simultaneously. Meaning that if we focus close and use a wide aperture then then the DOF will be razor thin—only a few centimeters. However, if we focus far away and set a narrow aperture, then the DOF might be many tens of meters in depth. For a landscape photograph (urban or otherwise), this second circumstance is usually ideal!

So, with all that, we can deduce where to focus if we want to maximize DOF for urban landscapes—on an object rather far from the camera. However, there is a bit more to it, and for that we should think about how the camera focuses.

Focus on the subject in the balcony — a small aperture (f/5.6) ensures that the background is also in focus

Focus on the subject in the balcony — a small aperture (f/5.6) ensures that the background is also in focus

What Cameras Focus on Best

Modern cameras focus using one of two systems: phase detect or contrast detect. I will not go into the technical details or the merits of each system. All you need to know is that these methods work better when focusing on details or areas of high contrast. The easier to discern those details are, the more accurately and quickly the camera can focus.

Examples of great focusing targets are signs, text, brick walls, road markings, repetitive patterns, and so on. What all these things have in common is distinct areas of contrast. Some less than stellar focusing targets are trees, bright lights, neon signs, glass, fuzzy things, etc. These objects all lack some definition and have features that blend together even at different distances. The worst things to focus on have uniform colors and lack details, such as bare asphalt, single-color surfaces, empty patches of sky, glowing surfaces, and so on.

Obviously, all cameras are a bit different and some handle these things better or worse. But in general, try to focus on high contrast areas in the image. Combining what we learned above about DOF, we also know that these areas should be a good distance from the camera.

All that should give you a good idea of where to focus, but let’s go beyond that—manual focus.

Focused manually in live view mode — specifically targeting the large box-shaped water tank just upper right of center

Focused manually in live view mode — specifically targeting the large box-shaped water tank just upper right of center

Manual Focusing with the LCD Screen

Auto-focus is great on most cameras these days, but when I’m using a tripod I like to focus manually. The reason is that I can be 100% sure that the focus is perfectly accurate, and I get enjoyment out of slowing down and doing things manually. However, most cameras these days are not so manual focus friendly when using the viewfinder (old cameras had split prisms in the viewfinder to aid manual focusing). On the other hand, digital cameras are great for manual focusing when using the LCD in live view mode.

On most mirrorless cameras, you already have the image on the back LCD, but on SLRs you’ll have to go to live view mode. Once you’re looking at the photo on the back LCD, you can zoom in the picture. This does not mean zooming with the lens, but rather zooming the picture itself. Most cameras have a dedicated button which allows you to do this (look for a pair of buttons with + and - symbols).

Once you zoom in the picture, you should also be able to move the image around. Find an object with details and contrast, such a railing, a sign, or a post in the part of the scene where you want to focus. Then, make sure you’re on manual focus, and simply turn the focusing ring on the lens. I recommend doing this with the aperture wide open (at its lowest setting, i.e. the smallest f number). This way you can really see the focus change as you rotate the focusing ring. Once you’ve set the focus, you can set your aperture back to f/8 or f/11 (or whatever aperture is needed for the shot). And that’s it! Tack sharp focus done manually—shoot away to your heart’s content.

Focusing on the utility pole, with all its details, is most accurate

Focusing on the utility pole, with all its details, is most accurate

TL;DR — So, What’s the Gist of It?

Okay, okay… so, to recap, when shooting an urban landscape scene, I tend to focus on objects that are far away from the camera, but not necessarily the farthest objects. I also choose to focus on objects with lots of contrast and details that are easy to distinguish. Whether focusing manually or automatically, high contrast details make focusing easier and more accurate. And in general, when shooting on a tripod, I prefer manual focus with the aid of the LCD screen. If you want to learn all this and more, just join EYExplore's Tokyo By Night Photo Adventure. Now get out there and challenge your eye!

Breaking the rules — focus on the foreground for effect

Breaking the rules — focus on the foreground for effect

Long Exposures — 6 Tips and Tricks

I wanted to expand upon my last two posts regarding long exposure night photography. But Instead of going into depth on another central aspect of this kind of shooting, with this post I want to cover a few specific tips and tricks that are a bit more on the technical side of things.

Settings — 13 seconds, f/16, ISO 100

Settings — 13 seconds, f/16, ISO 100

Turn Off VR / OS / OIS / Stabilizer

First off, a simple tip and a word of caution: turn off picture stabilization. Lots of cameras these days can try to reduce vibration in order prevent motion blur at lower shutter speeds. When shooting in low light conditions, shutter speeds can get a bit slow, and the camera will use a moving element in the lens or in the body in order to stabilize the image, preventing blur.

Image stabilization is great when you’re shooting by hand, but not so great when the camera is on a tripod. Though some of the newer cameras are smart enough the deactivate this function when they are stationary, it’s a good idea to turn this off completely when doing long exposure photography. Some cameras have a physical switch on the lens for this function, while others have the option buried in the menus. Of course, once the camera is off the tripod, be sure to turn this back on as it’s a very useful function in most situations.

Settings — 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 200

Settings — 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 200

White Balance

Let’s talk about color. One of the original ways in which photographers could affect the colors of the photo was through white balance. For example, if you are shooting indoors (say at home or at a bar) it’s likely to be lit by tungsten filament light bulbs, also known as incandescent lights. These bulbs do not emit white light, rather they cast a yellowish light. If we set our camera to ‘incandescent’ or ‘tungsten’ (often labeled one or the other on most digital cameras) then the camera will compensate for the yellow tint by making the photo very blue in tone. The result is a white balanced photo.

But what happens if we set the incandescent white balance when shooting outside in a city like Tokyo, which is mostly lit by fluorescent lights and LEDs? Well, those lights do not cast a strong yellow light, so the photo ends up overly blue. This is the ‘wrong’ white balance but it can create beautiful contrasts when shooting the red taillights of passing cars.

If you’re shooting in JPG then I highly recommend experimenting with the white balance in the camera, as it can be difficult to change in post. If you’re shooting in RAW, then the white balance can be changed later, but if you’re new to this setting then it’s best to play around with to get an idea of what the different white balance settings do for your long exposure night photos. At the very least, seeing the differences will leave you with ideas on how to edit your photos in post.

Settings — 10 seconds, f/11, ISO 200 — composite of 2 frames

Settings — 10 seconds, f/11, ISO 200 — composite of 2 frames

Noise Reduction

Why does the camera sometimes say ‘Processing’ after taking a long exposure photo? (Some cameras don’t say anything, but simply keep the screen black for a few seconds after the shot.) A common misconception is that the memory card is slow or there is a lot of data to write after a long exposure.

To the contrary, the real reason has to do with noise reduction. Most digital cameras these days will perform a special kind of noise reduction to long exposure photos (typically photos longer than 1 second). When taking a multi-second exposure, the might end up with what’s known as ‘hot pixels’—pixels that get overly saturated and produce pure white dots in the image.

To remove these hot pixels, the camera will take a second ‘photo’ immediately after the actual shot. For example, if you do a 4 second exposure, after the photos is taken the camera will close the shutter and then take another ‘black’ photo with the shutter closed. This second exposure has to be the same length as the original shot. So, a 10 second exposure means a 10 second processing time.

What the camera does is it maps out the hot pixels and then subtracts them from your photo, resulting in a clear, noise-less image. Now, if the processing time is a problem most cameras allow you to turn off this feature, often labeled ‘long exposure noise reduction.’ However, I generally do not recommend turning it off, as this kind of noise is very difficult to properly fix in post.

Settings — 5 seconds, f/8, ISO 200 — composite of 4 frames

Settings — 5 seconds, f/8, ISO 200 — composite of 4 frames

Focusing: First Auto, Then Manual

(or just back-button focus)

Auto-focus generally does a good job on most cameras when shooting urban landscape photos. However, sometimes there tends to be a lag which can cause problems when perfect timing is required. And anyway, while the camera is stationary on a tripod, focusing again and again every time you take a shot is rather tedious. Therefore, a simple and effective technique is to focus automatically one time, then switch to manual. This way the focusing is done by the camera once and then locked once you switch to manual. Just be sure to put it back on auto when you recompose your shot or move to a new spot.

More advanced users might also prefer to use ‘back button focusing’ (which is what I personally always use). Some cameras allow you to change which button activates focus. Typically, the same button that releases shutter is also responsible for activating the auto-focus. On my camera, I’ve set another button on the back side of the camera to activate focusing, while the shutter release does only one thing—it takes the picture. This is useful for urban landscape photography as I can focus once with the back button and then take as many shots as my heart desires without having to focus again.

Lots of photographers use this technique, but at first it does take some getting used to. I tried it for a few weeks, gave up for a while, tried again, and then finally fell in love with back button focusing. Give it a shot!

Settings — 5 seconds, f/11, ISO 200 — Zoom Blur

Settings — 5 seconds, f/11, ISO 200 — Zoom Blur

Zoom Blur

Zoom blur is a fun and easy technique that can result in stunning images. It’s very simple once you get the hang of it. Let’s say you’re doing a 4 second exposure of a cityscape. If you have a zoom lens, start zoomed out (the widest end of the zoom range), press the shutter release so the camera starts taking a photo, and then simply zoom in all the way. The resulting photo will be blurred towards the center of the image. This is called a zoom blur.

That’s really all there is to it. Try experimenting with different exposure times and different rates of zooming. You can also try to start zooming first, then releasing the shutter while you’re already zooming. Another way is to zoom in stages, stopping for a moment every second, resulting in another effect. The point is to just have fun with this simple trick!

Compositing in Photoshop

I have one last thing to help you create rich and vivid urban long exposure photos: compositing. If you’ve taken some long exposure photos of traffic, but the number of light trails in any single photo is a bit lacking, then you can try compositing them in Photoshop. In short, you should have a few identically composed shots (meaning that the camera did not move between shots) and then stack them up in multiple layers. In Photoshop, you can open your photos in a stack by going to File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack… Once there, be sure to select ‘Attempt to automatically align source images’ in order to ensure that everything is aligned properly.

Once the photos are open and stacked in layers, simply select all the layers and change the blend mode to ‘Lighten’. This will allow only the lighter parts of each image (mainly the light trails) to show through the whole stack of photos, effectively compositing all the light trails. That is the gist of it, though there is a lot more to this technique to pull it off really perfectly, but that’s a whole other post for another day. :)

I hope these 5 tips help you when shooting urban long exposures in Tokyo or anywhere in the world. Remember, we cover all this and more on EYExplore's Tokyo By Night Photo Adventure, so please check us out if you happen to be in Tokyo! Good shooting and as always… challenge your eye!

Long Exposures — Two Approaches

Over my years shooting digital long exposures of the neon nightscape of Tokyo, I found that there are two basic approaches. One is to shoot as long as possible with as much traffic as possible, while the other is to shoot relatively short exposures while exercising excellent timing. For the basics on this kind of shooting, refer to my previous post on long exposure photography. You can also book EYExplore's Tokyo By Night Photo Adventure to learn all about long exposures in Tokyo.

Settings — 6 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

Settings — 6 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

The Long Approach

The common strategy for urban long exposure photography is to shoot for as long as possible to get many cars and other moving elements into the shot. This is usually best done from an elevated location looking over a large area such as a highway or multi-lane road, which can accommodate a lot of traffic.

An example of this approach would be to use the following settings: f/11, ISO 100, and an 8 second exposure. This is a typical setting that works in the well-lit streets of Tokyo. If this is not long enough the exposure can be lengthened to 30 seconds with a 2 stop ND filter, for example.

The long strategy makes sense when we are photographing an open stretch of road with cars moving a good distance away from us. By shooting for 8 seconds as in the above example, we would get longer light trails. In addition, the lengthy exposure might allow lots of traffic to pass through our frame. This means that multiple cars will layer on their own individual light trails, resulting in a vibrant and striking image.

Settings — 6 seconds, f/8, ISO 100

Settings — 6 seconds, f/8, ISO 100

A Crucial Caveat

There is one challenge with the long approach—it requires lots of traffic to ensure that there are cars passing through the shot during most of the exposure. If you only get one car passing through the scene you might end up with a single long, but feint, light trail. This not ideal. For that, we must change strategies.

Settings — 1 second, f/11, ISO 100

Settings — 1 second, f/11, ISO 100

The Short Approach

Faced with the problem of low traffic, one might be tempted to give up. But there is another way: we can get close to the road, and reduce our shutter time to around 1-2 seconds. With perfect timing, solitary cars are enough to leave rich and vivid light trails. The lights and reflections on the body work of the cars take on a textured, fluid-like appearance.

For example, if we take our previous settings from the above example (f/11, ISO 100, 8 seconds) and reduce the time to 2 seconds, we have made a 2 stop change. Each stop, reduces the light by half, so we went 8 seconds > 4 seconds > 2 seconds. Assuming our exposure was correct, we would have to compensate with either ISO or aperture (or both), so our resulting settings might be f/8, ISO 200, 2 seconds. We increased the exposure via the aperture by 1 stop (changing from f/11 to f/8 is a 1 stop increment) and then we increased our ISO by 1 stop (doubled from, 100 to 200). This results in a 2 stop total change.

Settings — 1 second, f/8, ISO 400

Settings — 1 second, f/8, ISO 400

Enough with the numbers… what does all this mean?

Walking through an exposure calculation is good mental exercise, but the key takeaway is that relatively short exposures works very well when shooting close to the passing cars. Timing their entry into the frame is crucial, but the resulting photos can be very dramatic. I used a 2 second exposure in my example above, but other times can work too, such as a 1/2 second or even 4-5 seconds. The key is that the solitary car should be in your frame for the same amount of time as your exposure. This obviously depends on the speed of the car, so once again timing is crucial.

Next time you’re out shooting long exposures in the city, try the two strategies covered above: shooting lots of traffic for long shutter times from a great distance, and shooting close for only 1-2 seconds and timing individual cars passing in each frame. With practice, you’ll see the difference and you’ll be able to decide which approach works best for each situation.

As always if you want to learn these techniques hands-on and you happen to be in Tokyo, we can teach you all this stuff on EYExplore's Tokyo By Night Photo Adventure! Stay tuned for another post on long exposure photography next week.

Settings — 2 seconds, f/8, ISO 100

Settings — 2 seconds, f/8, ISO 100

Long Exposure Photography — Basic How To

Have you ever wondered how to get a night shot of the city with intense, fiery light trails? Well then read on my friends! This blog post is for those who want to learn how to shoot long exposure shots from the basics, as well as those of you who have already joined EYExplore's Tokyo By Night Photo Adventure and want to recap the settings and techniques you already learned.

Settings — 15 seconds, f/16, ISO 200

Settings — 15 seconds, f/16, ISO 200

The Basics

In order to get into the deep end of long exposure night photography, let’s review the basics of a camera: shutter, aperture, and ISO.


The shutter setting allows you to control how long the shutter stays open, and therefore how much light comes into the camera. The secondary effect of the shutter time is motion blur. The longer the shutter, the more motion blur you can get.


The aperture is an iris inside the lens that controls how much light comes into the camera. We can make the aperture big (e.g. f/2.8) or small (e.g. f/16). The secondary effect of the aperture is its influence on the depth of field (DOF). For our purposes, all we need to know is that it gets deeper (more things are in focus) with a smaller aperture (e.g. f/11).


The ISO setting can be thought of as the ‘sensitivity’ of the camera’s sensor (or the film, if you’re using an analog camera). Essentially, the higher the ISO the more ‘sensitive’ the camera, which effectively means you’re getting ‘more’ light. In reality, a digital camera doesn’t quite work quite like this on a physical level, but for our purposes, this is a very convenient shorthand. The side-effect of the ISO is that the higher it goes the more noise or grain will be present in the resulting image.

Essentially, all three main functions (shutter speed, aperture value, and ISO) primarily affect how much light you end up with in the camera, while each of them also have a secondary effect.

Settings — 8 seconds, f/11, ISO 50

Settings — 8 seconds, f/11, ISO 50

How to set the camera…

With the basics out of the way, let’s move on to the settings we need for a typical night time long exposure shot in the city. Our goal is to keep our shutter open for as long as possible in order to allow the traffic to leave nice long trails of light in our photo. Let’s go with a typical shutter speed for this purpose: 4 seconds. This means the shutter stays open for 4 seconds to capture light, which is quite a long time. If we do not consider our other 2 settings carefully, then we will be left with an overexposed photo. In most shots on our photo adventure in Tokyo, this means we need to make the aperture smaller and reduce the ISO.

A good aperture setting for this shot could be f/11 (remember—a bigger aperture number means a smaller aperture). At this aperture, we have reduced the amount of light coming into the camera considerably. The secondary effect is that we also have a wide Depth of Field, meaning more things are in focus. This is perfect for a cityscape shot.

Next, we need to consider our ISO setting. We are trying to compensate for the large amount of light coming in during our 4 second exposure, so we need to keep the ISO quite low. Most cameras these days can do 100 ISO at the lowest. Going with the lowest ISO also has the added benefit of reducing noise / grain in the photo.

Settings — 2.5 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

Settings — 2.5 seconds, f/11, ISO 100


So, let’s recap the settings for a typical night long exposure photo: 4 second shutter, aperture f/11, and ISO 100. And that’s it! From there you might adjust the aperture a bit (say between f/8 and f/16) and work on the shutter time, anywhere from 1 second to 15 seconds depending on how much light is in the scene.

This covers the very basics of an urban long exposure photography, just like the ones we do at EYExplore on our Tokyo By Night Photo Adventure. I did gloss over a few details, so in the future, I’ll go into more depth and cover some advance techniques.

Settings — 6 seconds, f/11, ISO 50

Settings — 6 seconds, f/11, ISO 50

Mastering Manual Focus

Have you ever cursed your camera for missing that special moment in the streets? Do you ever struggle to get the subject quickly in focus before the fleeting moment is lost forever in the aether? Well then why not try manual focus? Below is a brief guide to a few key manual focus techniques that can help you capture the decisive moment.

manual focus - photo 4.jpg

Prime Lenses

Before we can look at the benefits of manual focus, we first have to discuss the use of prime lenses. The reason prime lenses have become a staple of street photographers is simple: speed. Without the need to select a focal length, and forcing yourself to work with one field of view (FOV), you can drastically reduce the time necessary for framing the subject. Of course, the single focal length puts a constraint on what the photographer can do. It also forces us to use our feet. You might think this can slow things down, and zooming would allow you to change framing more quickly. However, by practicing with the constraint in place, proper positioning becomes second nature. As with the rest of the techniques described in this article, the goal is to make the technique automatic, and therefore, fast.

I don't feel it's necessary to go on with the upsides of prime lenses, since most of you are already converts, or even started out on fixed lenses. So on to manual focusing!

manual focus - photo 2.jpg

Manual focus, zone focusing, and hyper-focal distance

Manual focus might seem like a daunting prospect, but it is not as difficult as it sounds and it can really open up many possibilities when it comes to street photography. The main advantage of manual focusing over auto-focus is speed. Yes, it can be faster to manually focus rather than letting the camera seek focus automatically, regardless of whether you're shooting with a high grade camera body or not (sports photography, certain wildlife photography, etc. are exceptions due to the erratic motion of the subjects). This is especially true in good light because it allows shooting at f/8 or f/11. At small apertures the depth of field, or DOF, becomes large. Also, with sharp lenses, one does not need to nail focus exactly on the subject. Even if focus is slightly off, the subject will be sharp due to the large DOF. When using auto-focus, the camera will search for perfect sharpness which increased the time required to focus.

With practice, one can very quickly guess the approximate best focus with great speed and accuracy. In addition, depending on the auto-focus settings (matrix, spot, etc.) the camera might not focus on the desired point in the frame. The photographer has more control over what should be in focus, and most importantly can make the decision more quickly with manual focus. There's no need to mess around with focus select points and little joysticks on the back of the camera body. Selecting the focus point happens instantly in your mind.

But this isn't the real advantage of using manual focus. Modern AF systems have come a long way, and can nail focus on eyes and faces even in extreme conditions. The real advantage comes with having the focus already setting before you even know what your subject is. Then there is no need to focus at all.

manual focus - photo 1.jpg

To achieve this, we can use a technique known as zone focusing. We can select a 'zone' between various focus ranges, say between 3 meters and 5 meters. Then you position yourself in such a way as to keep the subject in that range. You can also take advantage of the large DOF at high apertures, such as f/8, and maximize it to the point that no focusing is necessary beyond a certain range.

This is how it's done: all manual focus lenses have a gauge depicting the DOF at small apertures. It will look something like this:

On the focusing ring, the focal distance is depicted in meters (and feet), with infinity marked by ∞. It looks like this:

So together the two scales look like this:

For example, at f/8 we can set the focus such as to place 5m at the left '8' mark, like this:

manual focus - diagram 4.png

This gives us a focus zone between 5 meters and 3 meters. That's a pretty big area in which everything will be in sharp focus. You might think it's difficult to consistently place subjects within this range, but you'd be surprised how quickly you can learn the effective focus range of a particular favorite lens. This is also where prime lenses become a key to the techniques. It can be done with a zoom lens, but the varying POV makes it difficult to instantaneously frame the subject as desired, which mitigates the speed advantage of zone focusing.

We can also take this one step further. Say we set the aperture to f/11 and set the focus such as to place infinity at the left '11' mark, like this:

Now everything from infinity down to ~2 meters will be in focus at f/11. So, as long as we keep the subject more than ~2 meters away from the camera, the subject will always be in focus. In fact, everything beyond ~2m will be in focus. In this way, we have entirely eliminated the need for focusing in bright lighting conditions! This is known as 'hyper-focal distance.'

Of course, we don't always shoot in bright light. Sometimes we need to stop down to f/2 or less. In this case, hyper-focal distance is not a viable option, but zone focusing is still effective. Say you set you focus to 5m at f/2. The zone has become quite small, being as small as a 1-meter-deep ‘zone’ approximately 5 meters away from the camera. However, by consistently practicing with the same prime lens, you can even learn to shoot from the hip with this technique and get razor sharp results.

Shooting from the hip and quick draw

Once you take advantage of zone focus and hyper-focal distance you can easily draw the viewfinder to your eye, compose, and release the shutter, without taking any time to focus. In addition to this, you can even shoot 'from the hip', that is, without looking through the viewfinder. At first, this might look like a way of simply getting lucky. However, with the assumption that a prime lens is being used, you can learn that particular lens' field of view. With practice, you can predict what will be in the frame without even looking through the viewfinder. This is very difficult to master, and I don't suggest that anyone relies on this technique exclusively. But, I believe it can be a useful tool in your photographic toolbox. Finally, being forced to memorize the lens' field of view, allows for very fast composition and subject placement. In conjunction with zone focusing, this technique allows split second decision making: crucial when capturing the decisive moment!

And this of course is the crux of it all: you want to be absolutely ready to capture the moment without hesitation when it happens. The above techniques, with a lot of targeted practice, can help you do so.

I’ve included some photos that I took by using these methods. In fact, I feel that I would not have been able to get these shots had I not used manual focus.

Of course, I understand that manual focus is not for everyone, and not for every situation. But it can be a very useful skill as well as a fun new way to shoot in the streets.

Gear & Process

I often get questions about the camera that I use and the editing process I employ. Since many of you would like more detail than just the make and model, I would like to give an overview of my gear and editing methods. If you're interested in my shooting process, I have written a more detailed explanation. Anyway, let's start with the gear.


Nikon D3/D4

The camera I shoot with is a Nikon D4 (previously D3). You may ask yourself why I shoot street photos with such a massive camera. And you'd be right to feel that it's an odd choice due to its size, weight, noisy shutter, and complete lack of subtlety that most street photographers seek out in the Leicas, the Fujifilms, and so on.

However, when I bought this camera in 2010, the D3 had some qualities that made it a great fit for the conditions in which I do most of my street shooting; that is, at night. First and foremost, its low light capability and dynamic range were very good for its time, and even to this day the high ISO performance of this camera is nothing to sneeze at. Since I do much of my photography at night, this is a huge plus. Besides that, the view finder is massive, and bright. Besides the weight factor, the ergonomics and balance of the camera are great for me. Finally, the camera is fast in all respects (focus, metering, etc.)

Despite all this, the camera body itself is not as important as the glass we put on it. So onto lenses!

Voigtländer 40mm f/2.0 Ultron SL II

The Voigtländer 40mm f/2.0 is a manual focus lens best suited for full frame cameras. For a relatively low price it can produce very sharp images with generally pleasing bokeh wide open. But what I really like about it are the 40mm focal length, and the ergonomics of using a dedicated manual lens when it comes to street photography. The buttery smooth dampened focus ring and relatively long focus pull both allow me to use manual focus techniques such as zone focusing without issue. I've practiced with this lens for years, and I've gotten quite good at nailing the focus at 4 meters out, even wide open at f/2. You can read more about how I use this lens in my Manual Focus tutorial.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G

It's very expensive hunk of glass, but the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G is worth every penny. I picked this lens up last year and it replaced my Nikon 28mm f/1.8G (a good wide prime). The 14-24 is a beast of a wide angle lens. It's heavy and obnoxiously large, but it produces exceedingly sharp images at 14mm, even wide open at f/2.8. The distortion, typical of ultra-wide lenses, is also easily fixed in Photoshop when necessary. I use this lens for urban landscape photography, with and without a tripod. It's my preferred lens to take up on the rooftops for dramatic views of the Tokyo metropolis.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8G

Finally, on occasion I use an the Nikon 85mm f/1.8G for portraits and the like. Compared with the more professional Nikon 85mm f/1.4G, the smaller, cheaper, Nikon 85mm f/1.8G does the job for me. On occasion, I use this lens for street photography as well. It's an affordable lens that serves its purpose very well.

The Editing Process

For editing purposes I use Adobe Camera Raw, which is a component of Photoshop. It's essentially a stripped down, but still very functional, version of Lightroom. I use Camera Raw over Lightroom because I don't require the management and organization features. Regarding editing, I spend as little at 2 minutes on most photos with an upper limit of about 15 minutes. However, all of my shots have at least some work done on them, and are never published directly from the camera. If there is more interest, I will write a more detailed tutorial in the future.