Shinjuku. So many photo opportunities. But where can you capture a photo of West Shinjuku's iconic skyscrapers district with looping light trails from a high vantage point... for free?
Shinjuku truly does offer a lot of photo opportunities for photographers. From this one place, you can easily get to and shoot famous places such as Omoide-yokocho, Kabuki-cho, and Shinjuku Golden-gai while enjoying the bustling atmosphere of Shinjuku. Once you have those shots out of your system, how about a lesser known place that captures all of West Shinjuku?
Set up for the above photo was:
Lens: 11.0-16.0 mm f/2.8
Focal Length:11.0 mm
West Shinjuku, A Bird's Eye View
Surprisingly, the above photo was taken from one of those big department stores at the west exit of Shinjuku Station. In fact, many department stores and shopping malls are built directly into the station (great on a rainy day!). The one we want to focus on is the Odakyu Department Store.
Once you get in the building, make your way to the 12th floor. It's a restaurant floor, but there is a free space where you can sit down and enjoy the view. Note, this is not where you will shoot from, but it's a great place to get an overall view of West Shinjuku.
Of course you are likely to be the only one admiring the view, since everyone else will have their heads down - busy using their cell phones!
Although this is quite a wide, open free space, it does come with a few problems. Firstly, no tripods, and secondly, the window has a weird film on it... which is not ideal.
So, to beat this, take the elevator down one floor to a food floor (11th floor), and you will see a small window next to the elevators. This is where to take your photo.
And here's what the view looks like. Pretty good!
Photographing Through Glass
To get an awesome shot, the next challenge is shooting through the window of a busy department store without getting reflections.
The first thing to do is get as close as possible to the window. Ideally, you want to position your camera at 90 degrees to the window to reduce any blurring caused by light refraction.
This is fine if you just want to shoot the Cocoon building, which is pretty much dead center. However, if you want a wide shot, like the photo at the top of this page, you will have to compromise and shoot on a bit of an angle.
The next thing to do is cover the end of your lens with a dark cloth. This will stop light entering around the lens and window. Be careful if you are shooting on an angle as the cloth might enter your frame. It's a good idea to take a few test shots and check the edges of your photo. There are other things you can use, like a lens skirt or a ninja lef - a kind of collapsible reflector you can attach to your camera, which are specifically designed for this kind of situation.
When I visit Odakyu Department Store, I always bring my mini tripod. To catch light trails, it's vital that the camera does not move during the long exposures. Also, another bonus with using a tripod is that I can always keep the ISO low - in my case, 64. This is important because it keeps noise at a minimum and keeps your photo looking smooth.
Please set you camera to manual focus. Auto focus will try to focus on the window!
At A Glance:
Location: Odakyu Department Store, West Shinjuku Exit
Station: Shinjuku Station, West Exit
Ease of Access: Easy
Hours: 10:00 - 20:30 Monday to Saturday; 10:00 - 20:00 on Sunday
Views: West Shinjuku skyscrapers, Mode Gakuen (Cocoon Tower)
Tripods: OK (make sure it's small. It's a small, busy area)
If you are a Nikon user, go across the road to the Shinjuku L Tower building to Nikon Plaza on the 28th floor.
Nikon Plaza in Google Maps
Get your camera and lens serviced while you're in Shinjuku. For lens cleaning, it takes up to couple of hours and is reasonably priced. While you're waiting, check out the gallery and showroom. There are also great views from this building!
There are many places to shoot in Shinjuku, but not many where you can compose a shot capturing the entire West Exit. I'm sure if you visit Tokyo, you'll sooner or later end up here. Without leaving the station building, you can challenge taking this shot and walk away with a unique photo of Shinjuku's skyscraper district.
If you are interested in seeing other twilight and blue hour photos of Tokyo, please feel free to visit my Flickr feed.