Light trails in Tokyo. I guess you automatically think of cars passing through busy intersections, or buses going over bridges. But let's change it up and use boats as a source for light trails, giving the added benefit of reflections! Tokyo has many places that fit the bill, but my number one recommendation is the Sumida River.
The Sumida River flows 27 km through Tokyo, out to Tokyo Bay, under a total of 26 bridges, with the more popular bridges between Asakusa and Hinode Pier. Although it’s possible to take photos of Tokyo Skytree with light trails, my favorite view is light trails combined with River City 21 - a huge residential development resembling a floating pyramid in the middle of the river.
Set up for the above photo was:
The above photo was taken from Eitai Bridge (Eitai Bashi, one of the many bridges spanning the Sumida River). After a long history and many rebuilds, it eventually became Japan’s first iron-built bridge. The arch looks particularly impressive at night when it’s lit up in blue.
When you arrive at Monzen-Nakacho Station, look for the yellow sign on the platform. Notice that the sign says Exit 3 is best for Sumida River and Eitai Bridge, but take Exit 4 instead. It will make your route easier when you get out of the station.
Follow the signs to Exit 4, and look out for a short escalator. When you exit the station, you'll be standing on the corner of a busy intersection. There should be a drugstore immediately to your left, and street signs in front of you.
Follow the sign "10 Eitai - dori - Ave"(go left).
It's a bit of a walk, but it’s a pretty straight forward route, basically a 10- to 15-minute, straight-line walk to the bridge. You know you're on the right path when you can see a blue pedestrian overpass.
Walk past the overpass and cross the canal (you can see Tokyo Skytree to your right). After another minute of walking, you should be able to see Eitai Bridge in front of you.
Eitai Bridge in Google Maps
Once you get to Eitai Bashi, position yourself in the center of the bridge facing those tall residential skyscrapers. Look over your shoulder for a nice view of Skytree!
Now is the time to prepare your tripod and compose your photo.
When I come here, I always use my bigger, heavy tripod because it can be windy. So, I want to minimize any chance of vibrations as much as possible. The more solid the tripod, the better.
Notice the river boats passing beneath the bridge. These river boats (Yakatabune) will be the source of the light trails.
Now that it’s getting darker, it’s time to try some test shots.
Set your camera to Aperture Mode or Manual Mode and experiment with different exposure times while keeping your ISO as low as possible to reduce noise.
Exposure times will increase as it becomes darker. The boats don’t appear as frequently as cars, so you’ll have to time your exposures carefully.
The key point is to take a lot photos of the light trails without moving your tripod, and then later load the shots into Photoshop or some other graphics software.
You can stack all the images above each other and then just select the blend mode of Lighten. Then, like magic, all the dark areas will disappear and you’ll be left with the bright areas - the light trails. You can mask out everything except the light trails. Then it’s just a matter of correcting and balancing the skyscrapers in the background.
Since there is a lot of traffic crossing Eitai Bridge, vibrations will shake your camera no matter what. So I recommend doing your long exposures while cars are temporarily stopped at traffic lights. There’s nothing worse than discovering blurred shots when you get back home.
Sumida River Night View Leading Lines
I try to use the light trails as leading lines to draw the viewer’s attention to the skyscrapers in the center of the frame. It can be a little tricky because the leading lines don’t really exist. I suggest you get to bridge early and just watch how the boats move. Try to get a feel for where they will go. It’ll make things easier when it gets dark. Make sure to take as many long exposure shots as you can, then you can use the best light trails later during the editing process.
For more light trail locations, check the following post
At A Glance:
Location: Eitai Bridge
Station: Monzen-Nakacho Station, Tokyo Metro Tozai Line; Toei Oedo Line, JR Chuo-Sobu Line
Ease of Access: Moderate (station can be confusing, plus a 10- to 15-minute walk)
Views: River City 21, Tokyo Skytree, light trails
Tripods: A must. The more solid (heavy) the better
Tip: It can be very windy, so use a sturdy tripod.
Although a little tricky to get to compared to other places, Eitai Bridge, the skyscrapers of River City 21 and light trails on Sumida River, make for a very futuristic, dramatic shot. A highly recommended spot.
If you are interested in seeing other twilight and blue hour photos of Tokyo, please feel free to visit my Flickr feed.