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[A Photographer’s Notes] Shibuya Nights with the Nikon 85mm/1.8 Lens

The top three locations for the night time shoot to test my new equipment were a pink staircase, an old phone booth, and a spot with tall buildings in the background.

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Whenever I get a new piece of photography equipment I am equal parts excited and intimidated. I am excited about the new ways this equipment can enhance my photography, but also scared that I might not know how to use it properly and make a mistake when using it on a job. 

This is why I always test shoot with new equipment on my own time, to ensure that I know both its strengths and weaknesses.

As I have written in a previous post, I recently picked up the Nikon Z9. And to go with the new Z series camera, I decided to pick up a Z series lens as well. 

For those who do not know, Nikon DSLRs such as the Nikon D5 or D6 have what is called an f-mount, which is a type of mount that attaches to the camera body. With the new Z Series mirrorless Nikon cameras this mount is called a Z-mount, and it works with Z-mount lenses. Make sense?

There is a very adequate adaptor for using f-mount lenses on the Z series bodies. But I really wanted to try a Z-mount lens.

So I now have the Nikon 85mm/1.8 prime lens. I love my prime lenses, but never before owned an 85mm lens. This is great timing for me to try one out. 

With an aperture of f/1.8, this lens is great for low light conditions, and I thought it would be fun to head into the backstreets of Shibuya at night and see what cool locations I could come across. 

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For this test shoot I asked my friend and world famous Waacking dancer Ibuki Imata to join me. I knew her style and thought she would look great juxtaposed against the gritty look of Shibuya’s backstreets. 

Often when I am working it is critical that a detailed plan of the day of shooting is made. But for these kinds of fun personal sessions I make only the most barebones plans. Basically, this time my plan is to meet Ibuki and get lost in Shibuya while we let the universe show us where to go. 

I won’t go into details on each of the 7 spots we ended up shooting at, but after looking at the pictures I would say my top three spots for the night were a pink staircase, old phone booth, and my fave: a spot with many tall buildings off in the distance. 

The Pink Staircase

With the pink staircase I really like the colors, and the slightly transparent pink/red glass that is part of the stairs. Also, it is the only location Ibuki is able to sit, so we played with the features here to get completely different poses from the other locations of the night. 

Even though my main goal is to test the lens, I still like getting creative and trying to finish the night with a wide variety of images both my subject and I would be happy to use. 

I actually really like the images where I am partially shooting through the transparent glass as it adds a second layer to the image and makes it more intriguing for the viewer, in my opinion. 

Thanks to the f/1.8 of the lens I am able to add elements like this to the foreground of my images. The bokeh the lens creates makes these elements stand out less and become less distracting to the viewer, compared to shooting them at a higher aperture.  

An Old Phone Booth

Old phone booths are just something you don’t really come across anymore. So when we were looking for just one last spot to shoot and I saw this graffiti riddled relic, I knew I wanted to have Ibuki stand inside. It was also our good luck to have a big screen behind me shining lots of light on Ibuki. 

There are lots of spots like this in Shibuya, where signs and screens near a shoot actually provide pretty cool lighting to what might otherwise have been a dark and boring spot. 

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This spot was also on a busy side street, so lots of people were walking by while we were taking pictures. But this showed me yet again why I love shooting in Japan. As most people walked towards us they would notice us, and stop and wait until they could cross without disrupting us. I felt a little bad, but it was super nice to see so many people not wanting to disturb what we were doing. I am not sure this would happen in many other countries around the world.

Tall Buildings in the Background

Now my favorite spot was the perfect place to use this Nikon 85mm/f1.8 lens. 

After shooting in a dark, narrow side street, we came out onto a main street just up from Shibuya Station. As the road leads toward the station, it actually splits off into two streets. This allows Ibuki to stand with the main street directly behind her, without needing to stand in the middle of the busy street. Safety first as they say. 

Again, thanks to the f1.8 aperture of the lens, and now because there is a good distance between Ibuki and the background, we are able to change all the wonderful light behind us into beautiful balls of bokeh. 

This is not only visually pleasing (to me at least) but also helps take what could be a very busy and distracting background and simplify it. Thus, 100% of the viewer’s attention is drawn to Ibuki. The contrast of her orange shirt and the blue/white lights in the background also really helps make her pop in this spot. Good times!!

In the end our test shooting only lasts a little over an hour. But thanks to Ibuki’s amazing skills, and the great combination of the Nikon Z9 and 85mm/1.8 lens, we are able to take tons of pictures we are both happy with. 

So far, I am really happy with this lens and look forward to shooting with it again. 

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Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on Twitter (@jason_halayko), and on Instagram (@jason_halayko), and find his work here on JAPAN Forward.

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