About Dave Powell

Dave Powell

Dave Powell is a photographer based in Tokyo, Japan who shoots with a Leica M9. He is the publisher of ShootTokyo, a friendly daily photography blog which he calls a "labor of love." You can follow him on Twitter @ShootTokyo and visit his photo blog site at http://www.shoottokyo.com.

Latest Posts by Dave Powell

Exploring Jiyugaoka Through A Camera Lense

July 14, 2011 by  


I took a walk around Jiyugaoka a little bit yesterday to begin to explore my new home…


It fills up on the weekends as the shopping streets close for car traffic and open up for foot traffic.


A pink Fiat 500… great color choice!

Pink Fiat 500 in Jiyugaoka

After unpacking for most of the day, I decided to bring my f/0.95 Noctilux for a quick night walk…   I love what this lens can do at night.

JiyugaokaJiyugaokaJiyugaokaAmerican Apparel in JiyugaokaKirin vending machine in Jiyugaoka

Adding to my list of places to try out…

Butter Fields in JiyugaokaTrattoria La gita in Jiyugaoka

My neighborhood Lawson (think AM/PM, 7-11, etc)

Lawson in JiyugaokaJiyugaoka InformationCoca-Cola Bench in Jiyugaoka

Check out this very cool Mitsubishi Debonair…

Mitsubishi Debonair in JiyugaokaJiyugaokaJiyugaokaJiyugaokaBistro in Jiyugaoka

So many great places I need to try out…

Pico in Jiyugaoka

Mozart and cake…

Mozart Cafe in JiyugaokaJiyugaoka StationGarden in Jiyugaoka

Japanese Word of the Day: 片付ける かたづける – cleaning



We are cleaning our new house.

Tokyo’s Visual Moments By Day & By Night…

July 11, 2011 by  


Rice Seller in ShibuyaChecking news on Mobile Phone in ShibuyaKimono GirlTexting at Shibuya StationSecond Harvest JapanTokyo Kaiten SushiHip Chick in Shibuya

Dog are people too…

Black Lab in Nakameguro

Capturing the life of the city at night

Star Lounge ShibuyaShinjuku without NeonNew YorkTatsuyaShop in ShinjukuNight Construction in NakameguroHot Dogs in JapanYamanote Line in Shibuya

Shibuya Station

This is one of my favorite shots.  This is hand held and I simply love the contrast in the picture.  This and the photo below it was taken in the few weeks after the earthquake in Tokyo so there was a lot of power conservation underway at the time causing a lot of the extreme dark areas and contrast in the photos.

Shibuya StationWaiting in Darkness, ShibuyaAntiques in Nakameguro

Waiting ShibuyaWaiting in ShibuyaTrain ConductorScreamWaiting at ShibuyaYamanote Line ConductorThe Ginza Line at Shibuya StationYamanote Line Platform in ShinjukuChinese snacks

Marina Bay Sands SingaporeHong Kong AirportSingapore Convention CenterPan Pacific Hotel in SingaporeNarita Airport

Capturing the world around me

As the saying goes the best camera is the one you always have with you.

Nakameguro, Tokyo, JapanTokyo, JapanTrain Crossing in ShinjukuLady Gaga in TokyoAudi S4Yutenji, Tokyo, Japan


Around Shinjuku and Golden Gai

July 10, 2011 by  


Today’s Configuration: Leica M9 with Summilux 35mm f/1.4 and my FujiFilm x100.

今日のカメラ:私のライカM9をつかいます。レンズはSummilux 35mm f/1.4。FujiFilm x100もつかいます。

Books in Shinjuku

I stopped by Yodobashi Camera to have my x100 checked.   My issue turned out to be delays caused whiled reading my memory card as it was 32GB.   I switched to 8GB cards and the issue was resolved.

Yodobashi CameraYodobashi CameraPachinkoYodobashi Camera no parkingTaxi in Shinjuku

I love all of these outdoor ramen shops in Tokyo.

Ramen in ShinjukuRamen in ShinjukuYokatori Alley in Shinjuku

I decided to take a stroll through Golden Gai on my way home…

KabukichoKabukichoNo Smoking in Shinjuku

Golden Gai is simply one of the best places for photography in Tokyo… I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Golden GaiGolden GaiGolden GaiGolden GaiGolden GaiGolden GaiGolden GaiGolden GaiCat in Golden GaiGolden GaiGolden GaiMailboxes in Golden GaiGolden GaiSuntory BarZory in Golden Gai

Japanese Word of the Day:  組み立てる (くみたてる) kumitateru – to assemble, to put together.



Photography Tips From What I’ve Learned & How I Shoot

July 10, 2011 by  


I get a lot of emails from people asking me what settings I used in a particular picture or what settings I commonly use or recommend someone to use.   I have written a lot of long emails replying to people so I figured it made more sense to do a write up here that I can refer people to.

I found when I first got into photography a lot of explanations try to be all encompassing and by doing so ended up providing a lot more information than I actually wanted and needed.   I think the first camera book I read was 500 pages or so of very detailed technical information.   It explained a lot of ‘what’ but very little ‘why’.   This tendency of authors to fill pages upon pages with very detailed technical information often frustrates readers causing them to lose interest before they have learnt what they started out to understand.    Here I will try to explain what settings I use and why I use them.le Formats

The first thing you have to decide is what format do you want to shoot.   Most cameras offer different sizes of JPEG and several sizes of RAW files.  I shoot RAW files without exception.  There a lot of benefits of shooting RAW that significantly outweigh any downsides.   RAW files capture the most amount of information available from your camera’s sensor allowing you a tremendous amount of options in post processing.

To process a RAW file, and ultimately convert it to JPEG for broader consumption you will need to use an application that can process RAW files such as Adobe’s Lightroom (which I use) or Apple’s Aperture.    You can change white balance, brightness, contrast, and a whole host of other things non-dystructively meaning that you can make the change and then change your mind and change it again.   This is especially helpful if weeks, months or even years later you repurpose a photograph and need to make changes.  The changes never impact your original file as all ‘settings’ are written to a side file, including settings you set in your camera.

I typically do very little, if any, post processing on my photos but if I need to tweak white balance, exposure or remove dust I want to be working with the highest quality file.   Here is an example of the controls in Adobe’s Lightroom.

Adobe Lightroom Controls

There are a couple of trade offs you need to make when shooting raw.  First the files are huge.   Mine are about 35MB per photograph.   This means you need to buy extra memory cards and have plenty of storage both of which are getting cheaper all the time.    When shooting my Leica and x100 I typically carry four 8GB 20MB/sec memory cards with me.   I use to use larger but I find the Leica performs better on smaller memory cards.    For storage at home I have five 2TB Western Digital My Book Drives.   I also have 2 500GB portable Western Digital drives I carry with me when I am traveling as I backup daily to ensure I never lose data.

One other trade off with RAW is your previews can tend to look flat on your camera’s LCD screen as there is no processing happening in the camera.   I tend to not use my camera’s LCD to evaluate my pictures other than ensure my framing was correct.

White Balance

One topic that can be a little confusing is white balance.    What you need to know is there are color casts at different times of the day and with different sources of light that can cause the colors in your photos to look off such as too blue, green or yellow.  Typically you can see this in the tone of the skin of whoever you are photographing.   Here is an example of some shots where the White Balance is not correct.

A visual example of White Balance

The goal of white balance is to make sure that colors are rendered correctly like in the last picture in the frame.   I typically leave my camera on Auto White Balance  as my Leica does a very good job of handling and balancing White Balance.  This works for about 99% of my shots.   There are times when the lighting is a little more difficult such as having mixed lighting sources such a house lights, light coming through a window and a flash for example.   In this case I might use my X-Rite Color Checker password to help me correct my White Balance and ensure colors are rendering properly.   Basically you take a photograph of this in your scene then can set a camera profile in Lightroom.   I use this each year when we should our family photos at Christmas.

X-Rite Color Checker Passport

For me those are the two big decisions you need to make in terms of settings in the camera, everything else is made while shooting.    Now let’s review the principles of exposure together.   We so have a couple of variables to control our exposure and how light hits our camera’s sensor; ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.

ISO – In film photography this determined how sensitive your film was to light. In the digital world it is how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. The higher the ISO the more sensitive your camera will be to light, but this comes at the cost of adding digital noise into your pictures and often at the cost of image quality.

Shutter Speed – This is how long you leave your shutter open thus how long you allow light to hit your camera’s sensor.   You can use this to freeze or imply motion depending on the photograph you are trying to create.

Aperture – How much light you let pass through your lens and onto the sensor. This also controls depth of field or how much of the photograph is in focus.

With time and practice these settings and the outcomes become second nature to you.  It simply takes time and practice to learn how to combine them together to get the effect you are looking for.    Understanding this isn’t the end all of photography but rather the beginning.   These are simply tools to help you achieve the outcome you are looking for.



ISO or film speed was it is know in Film Photography determines how sensitive your film, in the the digital world your sensor, is to light.   When shooting at night you might need to increase your ISO so you have a proper exposure but this comes at the expensive of image quality.  Below are some examples of the impacts of increasing your ISO on image quality.

A visual explanation of ISO

I want the highest quality images possible so I keep my ISO on my Leica at Pull 80 most of the time.  I will sometimes increase it to 400 but usually I don’t like to go much beyond that.   Different cameras have different abilities of dealing with high ISO.   My Canon 5DMKII for example is extremely good at creating high quality images at high ISO.  My basic rule of thumb is I only raise my ISO as a last resort.  There are also creative uses for ISO as sometimes you want to add grain into a photo such as shooting a city at night in Black and White.

Shutter Speed

The next part of exposure to understand is Shutter Speed.   This is simply how long you allow light to hit your sensor.   The simple question you need to answer is do you want to freeze motion or imply motion?   Maybe a taxi is driving by such as in the picture below and you want to stop it and freeze it razor sharp.  You would need a very quick shutter speed such as 1/1000 or 1/750 of a second to stop the taxi.   Perhaps you want to show that a scene you are looking at is very busy and you want to imply motion by capturing the blur of the taxi as it races by so 1/10 of a second might be a better choice.


A visual explanation of Shutter Speed

There is no right or wrong with shutter speed but simply what is the effect you want to create.    One consideration you need to think about with Shutter Speed is camera shake.  At a certain point either the movement of your hands or the pressing of the shutter and cause a slight shake that can be visible with the camera.  There are all sorts of rules of thumb out there but basically if you are shooting at a shutter speed of less than 1/50 of a second, you should be considering using a tripod to avoid camera shake.  Other things you can do to avoid or reduce camera shake is using a soft release button or a timed release so the camera has time to stabilize after you put the shutter and before taking the picture.


The last part of exposure and the one I tend to leverage the most is Aperture.   Aperture refers to the size of the diameter of the lens.  The larger the f stop the smaller the opening.    This is counter-intuitive and can be confusing.   Typically the smaller the f-stop the brighter the lens.   This is often also considered a better lens as well due to the versatility and creative potential of the lens.   Lenses with large f-stops such as 1.4, 1.2, 1 and .95 are called ‘fast lenses’.   I tend to buy fast lenses when possible.    Aside from the creative potential they are great for night shooting.

A visual explanation of Aperture

The creative part of Aperture is controlling what is called Depth of Field, or how much of your photograph is in focus.   Look at the pictures below;

at f/2.8 only the figure is in focus, you can’t really even make out the disk drives behind him.

at f/8 the figures behind him are beginning to become sharp

at f/32 everything is sharp and you can clearly read the labels on each drive.

A visual explanation of Aperture

Lastly focusing… I always focus manually as you simply get much better images, especially if you are shooting at a big aperture like I like to.  The opportunity for error is too big.

OK so how do we put this all together?

File Format – Raw

White Balance – Auto (most of the time)

ISO – Leave it on the lowest possible

Focus – Manual

This leaves us with a few questions we need to answer:  Are we trying to imply or freeze motion?   Do we want to selectively focus on a certain subject or capture a lot of detail from front to back?  I typically let the answer to these be the primary driver of the setting I use.  For example; if I am looking isolate a sign I will choose a big aperture such as f/1.4 or f/2.  I have my ISO locked on pull 80 so all I need to do is adjust my Shutter Speed for a proper exposure.    If I am trying to capture the trail lights of a car for example, I might set my shutter speed to 2 or 4 seconds and then adjust my aperture for a proper exposure.

I am shooting in manual mode most of the time.  If you are struggling with shooting in manual mode try using AV or TV.  If you know you want to freeze or imply motion, put your camera in TV and set the shutter speed to the desired Shutter Speed and the camera will choose the correct Aperture for you.   Now switch to Manual mode and you can tweak from here.  Just remember that each setting

f/1.4  at 1/90, f/2.8 at 1/60, f/5.6 at 1/15 and f/11 at 4 seconds are all proper exposures but all will give you very different looking photos depending on the creative outcome you are looking for.  I hope you found this helpful.

How Much Does Light Impact Your Photography?

July 9, 2011 by  


Light is often one of the most important elements of your photograph.  I always find it interesting when I hear comments like ‘wow you caught that at just the right moment’ or ‘he was really lucky to get that shot’.   Light, more specifically the quality of light, can have a profound effect on the mood of your pictures and really good photographers understand this and leverage this to their advantage.   Luck rarely plays a part.   First let’s talk about:

Types of Light

Hard Light

Hard light creates very bright and very dark areas in the same scene.  You can see this on a very bright and sunny day.   Often hard light can create very dark shadows.   You can also see this when people use a flash on someone against a dark background.    The result is often a very bright subject with a very dark background.    You can soften the shadows using a fill flash.

Soft light

Soft light is as it names implies – is soft.   It is diffused, smooth, consistent and has few shadows to confuse your camera.    Think of a large shaded area or what its like to be outside on a cloudy day.   There are no harsh shadows or extreme bright spots.

If you understand these properties you can then leverage them to create the effect you are looking for.   Let’s look at a couple of examples and see how light plays a role in the photograph.

Here is an example of high key lighting…   In this self portrait I am shooting two flashes through umbrellas on each site of my head.   The effect I wanted was a bit of an artistic shot with the light blowing out most of my features around the edges. This is a bit of an extreme example of hard light but hard light does have creative uses.

ShootTokyo Dave

You can also use the harsh light to create a ‘caught in the act’ effect as I did with Danbo here ‘taking out’ the Amazon.co.jp box…

Danbo Caught in the act

As mentioned above the harsh light from a flash can often cause a blacked out background.  Knowing that, you can use this to your advantage to create some great candid shots at night in bars, clubs or at parties…

Drinking in Jiyugaoka

Laughing in Jiyugaka

You can also use it to change how someone feels when they look at your photograph.  Domo looks much scarier coming out of the shadows than he would if there was even light across the scene.


Leveraging shadows is a great tool to bring a lot of impact to a photograph.  A lot of photographers shy away from shooting at night but I have learnt to embrace it.    I think the contrast between the properly exposed subject and the dark shadows can really make a photo.   A lot of people don’t want to have to carry a tripod but it is just a fact of life if you want to be able to take great night photos.   This year when Nakameguro announced that there won’t be lights up for the Cherry Blossom festival a lot of photographers were disappointed.  I just adjusted how I was going to shoot it…

Cherry Blossoms at night

Cherry Blossoms at night

Hot Dogs in Japan

Often one of the most effective lighting sources can be lighting coming in through a window.   Here my friend Jon initially had his back to the window.   If I took his photo that was the contrast would have been too great I would have had to use a fill flash to get his face properly exposed or risked having a blown out background.   I wanted to capture the calmness of the moment so a flash won’t have kept that feeling.   I simply moved so I was standing between him and the window so he would face the window when I took the shot.   I didn’t have him turn all the way so it creates a nice contrast with the ambient light.


Here is another example, where my wife Mayumi was taking my photo and I faced into an window.  The lighting from the window was much more pleasing than what the lighting in the house could produce.  I actually had a window in front of me as well as on my right so you can see there is more light on my right.   You also get great catch lights (the little glow in the eyes).

Dave in Sunlight

There is lots to learn about light and you can spend months and years learning to light.   The best website by far to learn about lighting is Strobist.  David Hobby is genius in lighting and really makes a lot of the concepts easy to understand.    He has bootcamps and tutorials you can follow if you really want to learn about lighting.  I play a little with flash from time to time but I tend to be more of a natural light shooter.   Partly because I like to travel light (now) and partly because I just don’t have the patience for setting up lighting.   Here are a couple of shots from some exercises I did while going through Strobist exercises so you can get a feeling for what you can learn.

Light has shape…look at the impact of moving the flash at different angles as I shot Ketchup Dunny.   It is a really fun exercise to go through to learn to control light and how to shape it around your subject.

Direction of light

Light can help you alter the size of something… as illustrated with my son’s toy car.

Blue Car

Dynamic Range

There is a difference between what your eye can see and what your camera can capture in terms of range of light.  Cameras have the ability to see 5-10 ‘stops’ of light, some more and some less depending on the cameras sensor and other factors but let’s just agree to 5-10 stops of light for the purpose of this illustration.  Now our eyes can see across 24 stops of light.   Your eye will look at different parts of the image, your pupil will dilate and record the brightness of a white t-shirt at ‘proper exposure’, then adjust to capture the the rich colors of the green grass at ‘proper exposure’ and the deep blue sky above all of it also at ‘proper exposure’ and present it as one imagine to your brain with each part properly exposed.     The issue is your camera lens can’t continue to ‘dilate’ to capture the varying ranges of light.  When you are shooting in this environment you can often get very dark shadows or blown out highlights.   Let me see if I can illustrate this with some images…

This is one of my favorite airport views…Hong Kong Airport.  The architecture is amazing. You can see people racing to their gates, the mountains and planes out the windows.   It is a great scene to me…but the issue is my camera can’t capture it as I see it.

Hong Kong Airport

The issue is my camera doesn’t have the ability to capture the dynamic range of light in the scene.     Let look at the scene above but let’s look at it across multiple exposures and see what details are actually available in the image.

I was trying to balance and get the details outside as well as inside.  You can see the result I got wasn’t very good.   The inside is simply too dark and the outside is simply too bright losing most of the color.    So let’s look at a series of bracketed shots with this one below being +/- 0.

Hong Kong Airport

Now if I under exposure 2 stops (-2) look at the detail outside that is brought in.  The red on the airplane is very strong now.   You can see details in the mountains but you can see next to nothing inside.

Hong Kong Airport

A -1 stop more details begin to appear.

Hong Kong Airport

Now at +1 you can see the inside is exposed well.   This is how I would have shot it if I was just shooting a single exposure, maybe bringing it down half a stop.   Personally, it really bothers me that the details outside are blown out.

Hong Kong Airport

and one final shot at +2 to bring out all of the details.

Hong Kong Airport

Now I have a couple of choices.  I can understand the dynamic range limitations of my camera and simply accept it.   I could photoshop the windows from the -2 exposure into the +/- o shot or I could blend these images together using software in a process called HDR or High Dynamic Range.    HDR is the process of taking multiple bracketed exposures (e.g. -2, -1, +/- 0, +1) and then blending these imagines together with software to bring out detailed you otherwise would not have been able to capture.  HDR when done right can create some amazing images.

HDR can often create some crazy colors and often gets a bad rap as people when people overuse it and make ‘cartoon’ colored images.    I believe a lot of control and restraint is required when using HDR.    For me it isn’t a tool I use often but I do use it when I want to capture something that my camera can’t otherwise capture due to the very dynamic range of light in a scene.   If this is something that interest you, make sure you check out Stuck in Customs as Trey Ratcliff is the master of HDR and an overall great guy.    He has a great tutorial on it and takes some amazing shots all over the world.

Hong Kong Airport

Magic Hour

Also known as Golden Hour refers to the first and last hour of Sunlight each day.     You can achieve some pretty amazing photographs as the contrast is much less, shadows are less dark and the image is overall more pleasing.    You will find light in this period to be much warmer.    You will also find for city shooting that there is a much better balance to ambient light.   The problem with Magic Hour is it typically falls when you should be sleeping or having dinner.   This is just the price you pay for good photographs…

Here is a great shot of the neon in front of Yodobashi Camera.  The neon looks great but the sky is completely blown out which I think really takes away from the picture.

Neon in Tokyo

If I just waited a little longer, the sky would have become a nice rich blue as the sun faded away and the sky would balance nicely against the neon.   This was shot just 5 minutes past sunset.

Neon in TokyoNeon in Tokyo

Neon in Tokyo

Golden Hour passes quickly so you need to get your shots in while you can.   Neon against a black sky just doesn’t look as good…

Neon in Tokyo

This one was taken on a stormy night so the sky didn’t become blue but gray but waiting until the right time allowed me to capture some great detail in the sky vs. just a blown out sky.

Neon in Tokyo

This is also the right time to capture buildings and views of cities…

Shinjuku without Neon

I love capturing these lanterns in that are all over Tokyo in front of noodle and Yakitori shops.    Magic hour is the perfect time to find a natural balance between this light

Neon in TokyoNeon in TokyoNeon in Tokyo


Japanese Tour Buses

July 9, 2011 by  


When I was walking into my office the other day there was a big Hato Bus parked out front…  Kai loves Hato buses so I took a photo for him.   Kids in Japan love Hato buses.   I think they must be attracted to the bright yellow.   You can see these tour buses everywhere in Japan.

Hato BusTaxi Stand in Tokyo

I am on the hunt for cool mirrors lately…

Me in the mirror


Even Ginza has parking challenges…

Bike ParkingJolly Ginza

Old Mercedes in Ginza

Drinks With Safecast

July 8, 2011 by  


Catching up with my photos from last week… after the Anti-Nuke Demo last week I caught up with the guys from Safecast.   This is a very interesting group of concerned citizens who have built a crowd sourced radiation detection network.    Regardless of what side you sit on the current nuclear debate, you have to admire the skills, knowledge and drive to put such a thing in place.   You can check out there work HERE.    We all met up at Farol in Omotesando.  I didn’t get to stay nearly as long as I wanted but a very cool Brazilian Place I plan to visit again soon…

Drinks with Safecast.org at Farol in OmotesandoDrinks with Safecast.org at Farol in OmotesandoDrinks with Safecast.org at Farol in OmotesandoDrinks with Safecast.org at Farol in OmotesandoDrinks with Safecast.org at Farol in OmotesandoDrinks with Safecast.org at Farol in Omotesando


I stopped off at the Pink Cow for a quick drink last week.   I like the ‘at home’ feeling of this place…

The Pink Cow in ShibuyaThe Pink Cow in ShibuyaThe Pink Cow in ShibuyaThe Pink Cow in ShibuyaOmotesando

Japanese Word of the Day: じかん – time.

example: こんしゅうじかんがないんです。。。

I have no time this week

Jiyugaoka Commute

July 8, 2011 by  


I decided to make a time lapse video today.   I was going to initially make it with my Canon 5D but then decided it would be more fun to make with my M9…nothing like pressing the shutter 800 times in a row with you finger.   I have never made one of these before but think it is a pretty cool new addition to ShootTokyo.    Now that I have the technique down…time to start to explore Tokyo in time lapse…


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