B&W and Color Photography… in Japan

This post is about Day 2 in Japan, and a little more. Not only in terms of days, but also discussing the continuous battle between choosing how to edit your photos: Color vs Black and White.

The concept of time has left the building. We, The Crew, are no longer aware if we should eat, rest, get up and visit places or simply hang out. All we really look at at this point is a. where we should go, and b. how many steps we’ve taken. That’s the only purpose of one of the guy’s wearable-technology-wrist-step-tracker-device. It’s not to check the time because that’s for old-school watches.

Senso-ji is the first place we visit that day, the second day. It is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo and to reach it you must walk the “promenade”, the Nakamise-dōri.

Old. You would expect to photograph it in B&W. Often labeled as being timeless, B&W photos do indeed present a quality of light, grain, and mood that allows the viewers to forget the period in which the photo was taken and rather focus on the subjects, the light, the contrast.

Yet, it would be a mistake to make all photos in B&W only because the subject is old. The vibrant colors were there when it was made back in 645 AD, and are still available to be captured today. Only because the technology didn’t allow us to capture in Color doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use it today.

So here is the first photo. A simple, touristy-style photo of the location. Waiting for the crowds to dissipate and trying to capture one person with an umbrella to add a little detail was the maximum effort I was going to give to making the photo.

Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo, Aug 2018

But the shapes are what attracted me the most. The repeating shapes in particular. The stacked undulating pagoda roofs, the tiles that made up the roofs, the curves throughout and the overall architecture of the buildings all caught my eye.

So I made these.

Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo, Aug 2018
Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo, Aug 2018

Could they have also worked in Color? I don’t think so. The colors were too vivid that they would have distracted the viewer from the composition.

In the first photo, it doesn’t matter what the colors are because the idea behind the photo is the “roofs”. The focus is on the roofs and top-ornaments. In the distance you can also see the tall Tokyo Skytree, a modern structure juxtaposed to the older temples. It also focuses on the shapes. It may only be a detail, but it’s a detail worth focusing on.

In the second one, the viewer can clearly see the buildings, in shades of darker grey, against the lighter shades of the sky. Trying to not overlap the buildings meant that the “blue” sky could flow freely in between the buildings. Could that effect have come out in a Color photo? I think not. I think the blue and red would have been the focus, leaving only the layers as a compositional technique.

And then there is this one. Of love, of rituals, of nurturing, of curiosity. It’s not the B&W alone that gives it that mood. It is the lack of color that allows the viewer to focus on the subjects on the feelings that they evoke.

Plus, smoke, unlike smoke with a burning red fire, is only grey, so a large portion of the photo would have had a grey cast to it already.

We walk back up the Nakamise-dōri, and stroll around in the surrounding area. It buzzes with young guys that carry tourists in chariots, pulling them with calves that are larger than their quadriceps. Aside from the astounding physical form, prowess I should say, their ninja styled shoes are unique, to say the least. It is certainly a tourist area, with foreigners wearing traditional kimonos and window browsing at the same time, as if it were normal.

Could it have been in B&W? Yes, I think so, but I like the colors and accents of red that bring the viewers’ eyes from left to rigth (the blanket, the purse, the street sign). It also compliments the pointing hand gesture.

Around Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo, Aug 2018

We decide to move on. The Crew is solid. We walk. We visit Meiji Jinju, the largest Shinto Shrine in Tokyo, and then venture to see Takeshita Street. A busy, extremely busy street, filled with youngsters all giggling and doing what teenagers do. I’m not really attracted by any of the stores. But I am captivated by the pink hues… in this scene.

Takeshita Street, Tokyo, Aug 2018

And a bit of luck never hurt, so the pink sleeve on the child’s shirt in the bottom left corner adds to completing the frame.

The color here is what makes the photo. Converting it to B&W would make it pointless.

We continue to walk through the city, at times getting lost knowingly, at times getting lost unknownlingly. All the while scenes unfold in front of our eyes.

We arrive to the Tokyo Tower, ready to get a view from the top floor.

Tokyo Tower, Tokyo, Aug 2018

And when we reach the top, here is a woman, taking a picture of a picture of a picture of a phone with a picture, I jump in, take a picture, of a phone with a Hello Kitty bumper taking a… never mind. I don’t like B&W photos when there is some form of technology, especially iPhones.

That may be a pet peave of mine, but B&W photos don’t work well where technological devices are so predominant in the photo, like below. I’m not saying never, I’m just saying it’s not my gig.

Tokyo Tower, Tokyo, Aug 2018

At the perfect moment we get to view Mt. Fuji. Do I need to explain why I prefer Color for these kind of photographs?

Mt. Fuji, seen from the Tokyo Tower, Tokyo, Aug 2018

Another day, or so, has gone by. We are ready to move on to Kyoto, with a quick stop over a Hakone, to see a Tori, an orange gate almost in a lake.

We go to the metro station the day we leave Tokyo, and suddenly find out that we are screwed. We completely forgot that it is Monday and that everybody, I mean everybody, is going to ride the exact same train we are ready to board.

Ginza Metro Station, Tokyo, Aug 2018

But we then realize we are in Japan. Someone will have thought of this. And indeed we get to the Shinkanse train station in time and with time to spare to grab some coffee, a morning sandwhich and safely board the bullet train.

But why in B&W? Simply because I loved the White shirt-Black Pant uniform that everyone was wearing. Also, because there was an unflattering artificial lighting, colors were soft and just bland. So let’s do away with them.

And here is a scene from Hakone, where the orange Tori would have been lost had this image been converted to B&W.

Scene at Hakone, Aug 2018

Then Kyoto.

“All aboard, Train is leaving on time”

The Shinkasen Engineer checks his watch (analog) to make sure it departs on time
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Aug 2018 (The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. Wikipedia)

A man sketches the pagoda, and here again, I preferred the repetition in lines (the vertical rails and bamboo scaffolding) and the drawing itself. Hence the B&W.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Aug 2018

Like in the photo with the orange gate above, the Tori, the orange Pagoda would have been lost had the image been converted to B&W.

And below are some other photos of Kyoto, all which I preferred to leave in Color, mainly because the colors were part of the main attraction.

Ryozen Kannon, Kyoto, Aug 2018 (This is Memorial for those who perished in the Pacific War during WWII)
Tenjin-san Flea Market, at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kyoto, Aug 2018
Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto, Aug 2018 (The inscriptions are the names of the donors to the Shrine, which is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto God of rice)

On the other hand, this photo, due to the textures and patterns, works best in B&W.

Nijō Castle, Kyoto, Aug 2018 (The Castle had Nightingale floors; which make a chirping sound when walked)

And in this one, New meets Old. No need for any color whatsoever.

A local market, Kyoto, Aug 2018

During our five days in Kyoto we decide to take a quick day trip to Nara, where the sun would scorch our skins. We walk around, unlike the deer that lay in the shade, only getting close to us and other people in search of crackers that vendors sell to tourists.

In Nara, tourists take pictures in front of the Tōdai-ji. The sky is too perfect to turn to grey.

Tōdai-ji, Nara, Aug 2018 (Inside is the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world)

Then to Hiroshima (which of course will be its own post), and then back to Tokyo for another night of memorable, or maybe not so memorable adventures. Who remembers?

Here are two photos that again, would have been less impactful had they been converted to B&W. There was some cohesion in how the colors blended, be it the violet, green and red in the first, or the hues of blue and violet and orange in the second.

Tokyo, Aug 2018
Tokyo, Aug 2018

On a final note, experiment. Like in the photo below. It was taken at Nijō Castle in Kyoto. The gentleman on the right was completely drenched in sweat. His companion is probably wondering if he’s going to make it. I found the scene darkly amusing. I went behind them and with the flash turned on, I made this photo. I later darkened it, but because the flash had shined such bright light, the contrast became even more evident. It looks like a night photo but it was in the middle of the day.

Nijō Castle, Kyoto, Aug 2018

I would upload the Color version. But why? Like I Discovered through Photography so should you. See what comes out when you try something new.

On a second final note, there is obviously no correct way of choosing between B&W and Color. I have my ideas, the ones above. In the future I’ll probably have different ones. But, there is something to say that one photo leads to the other, and switching between Color and B&W can be messy. That’s why you’ll have noticed that my collections are divided.

Come see some other work from the Japan trip here.


Until Next Time,