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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

Street Photography in Asakusa (1): Tips for Photographing Iconic Tourist Spots

A camera is a great travel partner, as it comes in handy for keeping a record of your wonderful experiences. More amazingly, by learning a little about how to use your camera, you’ll find that your camera can even capture the feeling you felt at your travel destination. In this article we will introduce some tips on street photography, using the district of Asakusa as an example of a place that lets you get a feel of traditional Japan. (Photos by: Takeshi Akaogi, Edited by: Etica)

A closeup at Kaminarimon, shot with the EOS 6D

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/30 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 1250/ WB: Auto


Photographing the bustle of Sensoji temple

Sensoji, shot with the EOS 6D

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 70mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/200 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting location: Sensoji
The bustle in the temple and smoke from the incense captured in the same image. It is easier to use the telephoto end of the lens, rather than the wide-angle end, to bring out a sense of how packed the crowd is.

Sensoji (also known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple) is a popular tourist spot with an old world feel that makes it easy to imagine what it must have been like until the end of the 19th century, when Tokyo was still known as “Edo” and Japan was still ruled by a shogunate, relatively closed off to the West. The key sights to shoot are the historic buildings here like the Kaminarimon and Sensoji, the large plume of smoke rising from the incense, and the Nakamise shopping street bustling with people. Because you’ll be in the middle of a crowd that is quickly passing by, a good idea would be to make sure you can photography quickly. I would recommend shooting in Program AE (P) mode or Aperture-priority AE (Av) mode, as the operations are simple and they make it easy to fine-tune any settings.


Tip: Look out for and capture the symmetry in the temple structures

To capture the full majestic feel of grand structures such as the temple gates, try shooting while being aware of where the front is, and what the guiding lines leading from the entrance to the exit are like. Many temples are built with a symmetrical structure. Hence, stand facing directly in front of the temple, and take note of the tilt of your camera so as to ensure that your image is horizontally level.

Kaminarimon, shot with the EOS 6D

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 35mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f4/ 1/125 sec, EV+2)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting location: Sensoji
If your subject is surrounded by a crowd, it is hard to photograph it. I held the camera above head level, with the camera set in Live View mode, and used the LCD monitor to check the composition.


Photographing Kaminarimon from a high position

Kaminarimon has long been a tourist attraction in Asakusa. In 2012, the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center was set up opposite Kaminarimon to provide information to tourists. The 8th floor of the building has an observation deck that is free-of-charge to use. While enjoying the scenery of Tokyo, including the Sky Tree, you can also look down on Kaminarimon nearby. This gives a view different from what you see when you enter through the gate.

Kaminarimon, shot from a high position.

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 50mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4/ 1/50 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 320/ WB: Auto
Shooting location: Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
Kaminarimon with Nakamise at the back. It is refreshing to look at it from a higher vantage point.


Check out our series on architectural photography for more tips on photographing buildings:

Architectural Photography #1: 3 Basic Concepts
Architectural Photography #2: Using Wide-angle/Telephoto Focal Lengths
Architectural Photography #3: Effective Composition Techniques
Architectural Photography #4: Photographing Buildings at Night


Photographing the Hanayashiki

If the Kaminarimon is historical structure that is reminiscent of the Edo period, then the Hanayashiki is a theme park that offers a glimpse of the of old Tokyo of the early 20th century. Despite its small scale, it leaves you with a sense of nostalgia. Because it is not as crowded when compared to the Kaminarimon and Nakamise, you can take your time to set up your camera. This allows you to go back to the basics of photography, so you can focus on finding a good composition. Try to find your own photographic style, such as by using a composition that provides a good balance for your subject, and finding the best angle to shoot from.

Articles about composition basics:
Simple but Essential Compositions (Part 1): Rule of Thirds & Rule of Quarters
Simple But Essential Compositions (Part 2):Centre Composition & Diagonal Composition
“Pattern & Rhythm” & “S-Curve”

On composition theory:
Gestalt Theory in Street Photography


Bikkuri House miniature at Hanayashiki

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 38mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f4/ 1/40 sec, EV+1.3)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting location: Hanayashiki
This miniature house made out of delicious sweets is a model of "Bikkuri House", which has been a popular attraction for a long time at the Hanayashiki. I placed it in the bottom right of the frame, leaving plenty of room in the top left of the frame to provide balance.


Hanayashiki bridge, shot with the EOS 6D

EOS 6D/ EF50mm f/1.8 STM/ FL: 50mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/1.8/ 1/125 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting location: Hanayashiki
You can find subjects in the most unexpected places. The characters of Hanayashiki displayed on the bridge are in a retro font that you rarely see these days in Japan. I crouched down so that the characters could be read properly and took a shot from a low angle.


Tip: Try using bokeh circles in your shoot for an interesting photo

Although photos tend to be shots of scenery, it is also interesting to consider using a photo as a picture or design. For the image below, instead of simply creating bokeh circles out of the lanterns, I decided to be bold and put the whole image out of focus too. This creates an image that is both mysterious and impactful, and that leaves the viewer guessing.

Here are some tips on creating bokeh circles:
4 Easy Steps to Capture Those Elusive Bokeh Circles!
Where Should I Focus On to Capture Beautiful Bokeh Circles?


Nakamise (no bokeh circles)

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 70mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4/ 1/80 sec, EV+0.3)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shot in focus. Although the lanterns are beautiful, the photo also clearly depicts subjects that I did not want to show, such as the framework of the building and the power cables.

Nakamise (with bokeh circles)

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 70mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4/ 1/80 sec, EV+0.3)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
By setting the focus point right up close using manual focus (MF), I blurred the whole photo so that all that stands out in this image is the “spheres of light”.



Recommended camera and lens for street photography

If you are going to make the effort to go on a trip, you might as well take a high-performance full-frame camera with you. The EOS 6D, which I used for this shoot, is one size smaller than the EOS 5D-series cameras. Pairing it with the EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM provides the best combination of image quality and portability for the discerning photographer. However, if compact portability is important to you, I would recommend the EOS M5 in combination with the EF-M22mm f/2 STM.

EOS 6D and the EF24-70mm f/4 IS USM


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Etica Co., Ltd. not only run photography classes under the name “Tanoshii Camera School", but also edit publications and plan media and events related to cameras and photography, with a focus on themes related to child care, animals and food. Their motto is "Photos make people happy!" and they are engaged in communicating the charm of cameras and photography.

Takeshi Akaogi

Takeshi Akaogi

As a photographer, Akaogi works mainly for magazines and writes books introducing photography and practical tips. He also teaches at photography workshops.