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How Tokyo Opera City helped improve my black and white photography

Sometimes I’ve been really happy with my black and white photos, and at other times I haven’t.  Why?  Well, I think everyone knows that light is important, as is the editing.  Of course, a great subject helps. To be honest though, I have never consciously used all three together at the same time to my advantage.  And in the end, my photographs have often appeared flat. They just looked lifeless. I finally found out why and I’m going to tell you.

One of the staircases in Tokyo Opera City. This shot is the one I was happiest with

Recently I photographed the interior of Tokyo Opera City, in Shinjuku ward.  Opera City is a big office tower, and on the lower levels it has the New National Theatre.  It can be directly accessed from Hatsudai Station. When I visited, I just walked around the public areas under the tower and enjoyed taking a few interior pictures of the main public areas.  From the beginning I planned to shoot black and white, because everyone says that is best for architecture.

Actually, I ended up going there twice because I wasn’t happy with any of the pictures the first time.  Even though they were taken under overcast conditions, very gentle light, the pictures didn’t end up with the look I was hoping for, even after some editing in Adobe Lightroom.  They had the usual flat look. It’s been something I’ve seen in my pictures, especially the black and white ones, many times before. So even though I was using black and white like the pros I couldn’t get the results I wanted.  It’s just like many other things in life, you won’t get the results you won’t if you don’t really know what you are doing.

There are lots of leading lines in Tokyo Opera City

So, I went another day, but at a much later time, and finally, got the results I wanted.  Why? Four reasons. First, I got the overcast conditions again which made for gentle light.  Second, the lights in some areas had been turned on in some areas which obviously changed the scene and gave me a great subject.  The third reason was the editing, especially with some addition of contrast, haze and some dodging and burning which I had never used intentionally before.  They made the pictures look a little more “gritty”. They rid the pictures of the blandness. And finally, Tokyo Opera City has a lot of long corridors and big blocks that can be used as leading lines in your pictures, which was something I have never used much in my pictures before.  I hope people will feel something when they look at them. As far as I’m concerned my problems have finally been solved.

It also made me realise that is why so many people like shooting architecture in black and white.  Some concrete monsters, like Tokyo Opera City, have very little colour to decorate them. In pictures they can feel quite lifeless (sorry to use that word again).  However, when you actually visit them, I think, they provoke emotion through their sheer size and huge interior spaces . If they have no colour, photographing them in colour adds nothing.  But the use of black and white emphasizes the areas of brightness and shadow and the contrasts in a building. That is what I believe adds emotion to architectural photography and makes it interesting.

I’m not sure if my photos are good or not, as photography is very subjective.  However, I’m satisfied with the pictures in this article. If you have any thoughts on this subject, I’d love to hear them!  And in the end, even though it’s impossible to get a winning picture every time, as long as you’re having fun, is what counts, right?

Equipment for these shots:

Camera - Fujifilm X-T2

Lens - Fufjilm XF 10-24 mm f 4 R OIS

Kenko PRO1 Digital Wide Band Circular Polarizer

The one exterior shot of Tokyo Opera City Tower I took