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Travel Photography Inspiration Project: Japan

Not only will this be one of the longest Travel Photography Inspiration Project posts to date, it is one I am very excited to put together. All of the participants not only delivered high quality images, but they all also held true to my request to provide you, fellow DPS readers, with helpful tips, either about travel in Japan or about specific photos.

Japan is on my list of places to visit and that’s just for the sushi. Putting together this post has opened my eyes to many of the beautiful areas of Japan as well as it backroads. I hope you enjoy this inspirational trip to Japan through the lenses of DPS readers.  If you have a moment, click through on the hyperlinks for each artists’ name to see more of their work.

Let’s wander around Japan in today’s installment of the DPS Travel Photography Inspiration Project.

And if you would like to be involved in the next country’s post, drop me a line here.


Reflections in Time by Michael D.Keller

A part of old Japan, waiting for you to explore. After a while discard your map and just walk.

Hands of the Daibutsu

Hands of the Great Buddha, Kamakura by Angus McIntyre

Tip: Kamakura, just a short distance from Tokyo, has many beautiful temples.


Sunset dreams by Pamela Oliveras

One of the many fantastic year round sunsets.

Tip: Okinawa is nearly 1,000 miles south of Tokyo and is known as the Hawaii of Japan for its sub-tropical climate and fantastic beaches. It is easy to reach from mainland via one of the domestic airlines.

DPS Japan 05

A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima by Greg Knudsen

Surrounded by peace lanterns made by children, the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was left partially standing after the nuclear blast that leveled Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, hastening an end to WWII. Travel tip: The whole of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a reminder of the horrors of war, yet now conveys a spirit of hope and peace.

We visited on the 59th anniversary of the bombing. Each anniversary and throughout the year, tens of thousands of origami cranes are delivered to the Children’s Peace Monument in memory of Sadako and her 1,000 cranes, whose story and some of her original cranes are among the displays in the haunting and moving museum.


Baby snow monkeys, Nagano Prefecture by Oscar Tarneberg

I took this photo in the Jigokudani valley near a town called Yudanaka-Onsen in Nagano prefecture. The lighting conditions were challenging, being dimly lit and steamy due to the hot volcanic spring water, meaning the shot required the use of a fast prime (135mm F2.0) and a lot of post-processing to boost the contrast and sharpness.

Political self-promotion

Political Self-Promotion by Draycat

A Japanese politician stands outside a station promoting himself.

Tip. Use a wide aperture to blur out ugly backgrounds and make the subject stand out. Also try and capture a moment that contains some action to create a more interesting shot, which tells more of a story.

Silent Prayers (Daisho-in, Miyajima)

Silent Prayers (Daisho-in, Miyajima) by Beck

There are hundreds and thousands of temples in Japan – you can try to go to them all, hit up just the most popular (or “touristy”) ones, or be a little more adventurous and visit some of the smaller, lesser known sites. Daisho-in turned out to be one of my favourites – high up on a hill on the island of Itsukushima (also known more popularly as Miyajima) and with very few tourists about, we had the grounds of the temple almost entirely to ourselves. This allowed us to wander for as long as wanted, without crowds of people getting in our way, and to get as close as possible to the thousands and thousands of different statues and relics that coat the area. This was a great opportunity to practice taking photos from different angles – getting down low, shooting from up high, looking for reflections in ponds, and practicing a variety of other techniques such as working in AV mode rather than snap-happy-tourist-AUTO-mode.

Dragon of Izumo

Dragon of Izumo by Khoa Dinh

This is a statue of the mythical eight headed dragon that would terrorize the people of Izumo.

Advice: Take public transportation, subways or trains, while you travel in Japan. Taxis are expensive and traffic in Japan is horrible.


??????  (The Mikimoto Building) by Christopher Carlo Casilli

Tokyo is filled with interesting small scale architecture and the Mikimoto building is a favorite of mine. Looking to set it off and show it unique windows and facade, I decided to shoot this up angle in late afternoon to bring out the slight pink tones of the building reflecting the setting sun.

Sunset at Hakone

Hakone by Kishan Harwalkar

If you are visiting Tokyo on Business and have a spare day, then its best to book a day tour to Mount Fuji & Hakone or Nikku. Hop-on to one of the tourist buses and have a guided tour of your choice. You can go up to level 7 of Mount Fuji and also visit some beautiful regions in the area of Hakone. But beware, the traffic towards Tokyo in the evening (especially on weekends) is very heavy and expect delays.

The Tokyo View

Tokyo View by Simon Skipper

Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world with the centre housing more than 13 million people. It’s worthwhile finding one of these tall buildings for a magnificent view, even in clear weather it’s difficult to see beyond the houses growing into the horizon.


Women of Tokyo by Michael Robert Powell

This juxtaposition of old and young was a lucky shot – I had my camera out just by chance. The out-of-focus background was softened futher by converting the image to black and white to give more attention to the older woman (as there was too much red around the young ladies).


Nagano House by Matt Gibson

Shooting at sunrise and sunset is always a good idea, but doubly so for travel photography when nearly all your shots are lit by sunlight.  This shot turned out pretty much only because the sun was setting and the light was right.


Ueno Temple Roof by Michael D.Keller

This is from Ueno Park.  A must visit for any first timer to Tokyo. It is halfway between Asakusa and Akihabara,  on top of a few subway lines and the airport express. Keep your eye open for artifacts that spark interest.

Moving prayer tablets

Shinto priests, Hachiman-gu, Kamakura by Angus McIntyre

Tip: Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are rich in colors and textures.


Faces of Eisa by Pamela Oliveras

10,000 Eisa dance festival. Naha, Okinawa

DPS Japan 04

Deer at 5-Story Kofuku-ji Pagoda, Nara by Greg Knudsen

A day-trip out of Kyoto, Nara is filled with historic temples and pagodas, and hundreds of free-roaming deer.

Travel tip: The deer are semi-tame, but I saw a couple of stags clashing antlers, so stay clear. Nara also includes the world’s largest wooden building, Todai-ji Temple, with a massive 15m bronze Buddha inside.


Bamboo grove, Arashiyama, Kyoto Prefecture by Oscar Tarneberg

Arashiyama makes a great detour from Kyoto, as it is close by but also contains many temples, as well as incredible walks through bamboo groves, but without the crowds. This shot was taken several years ago on a camera with poor high ISO capability, so the main challenge was holding the camera steady enough to stop down enough to get a deep enough depth of field to get the whole path in focus.

Rush hour rush

Rush Hour Rush by Dreycat

A woman rushes to get to work during Tokyo morning rush hour.

Tip. The key to getting a shot like this is to use panning, where the camera is set to a low shutter speed and you track the movement of the person with your camera. You’ll often need a few attempts to get a good shot.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station by Beck

This shot was taken “from the hip” (literally) whilst I was waiting for a friend to join me at the station. I love people-watching but sometimes feel a little self-conscious doing it, especially as a foreigner who stands out in a country like Japan, and where traditional and personal values of the locals also make me hesitant to take photos of people. As such, I recently tried my hand at “shooting from the hip” and just waited to see what results I could achieve … I didn’t have my eye to the viewfinder nor could I see the LCD display – the camera was near my waist, I didn’t have a lens disrespectfully shoved in anybody’s face, and I simply clicked the shutter button. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t – but I’ve discovered it’s all about practice and having fun with it! You’ll be astounded at some of the shots you can achieve.

Shibuya cross walk

Shibuya cross walk by Khoa Dinh

This is the busiest and most famous crosswalk in Japan.


??????????  (Crossing the Street in the Shinjuku Ward) by Christopher Carlo Casilli

Just outside the busiest train station in the world (JR Shinjuku in Tokyo) is a good place to really see the crowds typically frequenting this area of shops and restaurants…here on a warm summer’s eve. A slow shutter speed at night gave me that sense of a sea of motion set against the towering rows of tall buildings glowing with their bright vertical signs.
Streets of Shinjiku

Shinjiku: Animation & Neon all around by Kishan Harwalkar

Shinjiku is the main place of Tokyo housing Business centers on one side and bars & restaurants on the other. You get a glimpse of two shades of Tokyo from this place. A must visit place.
Japan, is also a place were Animation is worshiped. You can see people engrossed in animation all around you. Be it the comic books, mobile phones or hoardings on the Road, everything is centered around Cartoon characters.

The Mochi

‘Mochi’ is a traditional Japanese meal of rice especially eaten during winter by Simon Skipper

Looking for someone making it the traditional way is highly recommended, as it takes up to six hours involving a huge hammer and numerous people.


Women-only train carriage by Michael Robert Powell

Often ordinary things offer a great photo opportunity. A simple composition here with a vignette added, to partially shadow her face. (Note: the women-only rule is limited to rush-hour; so I was able to sit here).


Japan Vending by Michael D.Keller

Vending Machines are everywhere, in numbers.  Many today even let you pay by cell phone! Make use of them, they are convenient and relatively cheap.

Frozen tuna

Tuna, Tsukiji fish market by Angus McIntyre

Tip: If you are able to visit Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, remember that it’s a working market; tourists were recently banned after one group behaved badly.


Beach life: Northern Okinawa beaches in the summer by Pamela Oliveras

A 50mm lens would be a great all round lens to bring. A wide angle would also be an added bonus to capture the beauty of the landscapes and seascapes.
Summer is VERY VERY HOT and HUMID, but produces some thunderhead cloud phenomenal sunsets too. Nov it starts cooling down.

DPS Japan 02

Ryoan-ji Rock Garden, Kyoto by Greg Knudsen

My wife and daughter “deep in meditation” at Ryoan-ji Rock Garden, a 500+ year-old zen temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travel tip: Kyoto, which should not be missed, is best reached from Tokyo by Shinkansen (Bullet Train). We bought a 7-day Japan Rail Pass, which also took us to Hiroshima, Nara, around Tokyo on the JR Line, and back to Narita Airport. You must purchase the JR Pass before you arrive in Japan.


Koya-san monks by Oscar Tarneberg

High in the mountains of Okayama prefecture, Koya-san it is the site of many ancient and holy temples. This shot was taken in the Oku-no-in graveyard, which is a fascinating and eerie place, particularly photogenic later in the afternoon when shafts of light come down through the trees.

Heavy Duty

Heavy Duty – A Sumo Training Stable by Drewcat

Sumo wrestlers training at a sumo stable in Tokyo.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to change your viewpoint and experiment with shutter speeds when taking action shots. Often getting low and close can make a stronger image than just shooting at eye level, while changing the shutter speed can help to inject more drama into the shot.

The Quiet Life (Asakusa, Tokyo)

The Quiet Life (Asakusa, Tokyo) by Beck

A simple snapshot of a simple life in a back street of Asakusa, Tokyo, taken early in the morning on my way to the train station. I love to get up early and go exploring whenever I’m travelling somewhere – and as many people in Asia, including Japan, like to rise early, this is a great time to start shooting! The light is also far less harsh in the early and late hours of daylight, rather than the hours around midday (when you probably want to be out of Japan’s heat and humidity any way!) – so don’t be afraid to get up early and go to bed early on one or two days if you want to find some great shots with softer lighting.

Tokyo from Odaiba Island

Odaiba Island by Kishan Harwalkar

Odaiba, a manmade island claimed from sea is an ideal place to spend a day. It offers a nice view of Tokyo town and houses several interesting buildings. The Tokyo Museum of Engineering Science & Innovation, which houses Asimo, the famous Honda humanoid Robot, is worth a visit. After a visit to this museum during the day, you can explore the interesting places near the Fuji centre in the evening. There are several restaurants to have a drink and some good Japanese good. You should stay here when sun starts to set and the lights come up in Tokyo. It’s a beautiful sight and a treat to watch. If you are lucky you’ll also see Hannabis, the famous Fireworks which take place from time to time. You need to take a tripod to capture those lights n Fire works . For more details you can visit: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3008.html

The Monkey

The Monkey by Simon Skipper

These Japanese Macaques are very unique to Japan, living in the area of Jigokudani where they enjoy the hot thermal springs in a very intriguing way, almost obsolete to the fact that thousands of tourists are around at almost all times.


Temple roof-tops at dusk by Michael Robert Powell

Arriving before dusk at the Senso-ji Temple meant that flood-lights were already on – but it wasn’t dark yet, so the red paint glowed golden and orange. Using a telephoto lens and then later adding a digital vignette, I managed to get a somewhat surreal image.

Horses in a landscape

Horses in a landscape, Mt Aso by Angus McIntyre

Tip: Despite the image of Japan as hugely urbanized, parts are surprisingly pastoral, offering opportunities to landscape photographers.

DPS Japan 03

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto by Greg Knudsen

One of my favorite sites, Kiyomizu-dera is a nail-less wooden temple built in 1633 on a hillside along a waterfall and stream whose pure water is said to have wish-granting powers.

Travel tip: Most visitors enter from the west up a long narrow street leading straight up to the temple. However, my preferred approach is from the north, starting near Shoren-in and Chion-in temples, through Maruyama Park, past the 24m Ryozen Kannon statue, through cobblestone village streets, then joining the upper climb to Kiyomizu.


Mount Fuji, viewed from Kawaguchi-ko, Yamanashi prefecture by Oscar Tarneberg

Mount Fuji is the classic symbol of Japan, but getting a clean shot of it is harder than you think! Kawaguchi-ko, just a short journey from central Tokyo, offers stunning views with a range of natural foregrounds, including a lake. This photo was taken from a nearby hilltop around dusk for the best lighting; in March the air was relatively clear and the peak was still capped with snow.

Japanese School days

Japanese School Days by Draycat

Two schoolgirls walk through the entrance to a temple.

Tip. This type of shot is all about patience; once you see the possibility for a shot you need to wait until all the elements are in place to get it. In this case it’s all about making sure the schoolgirls are in the right place and that there are no distracting factors, like other people, elsewhere in the image.

Kamakura Fortunes

Kamakura Fortunes by Beck

These are hanging paper fortunes at one of the many temples in Kamakura, just south of Tokyo. The size of your aperture changes the depth of focus in your image, to create very different effects – but where exactly you make your point of focus (front, middle, distant) can also change the perception of the image. Mix it up occasionally to see what different results you can achieve – you may be quite pleasantly surprised!

The Buddhist

The Buddhist by Simon Skipper

In Zenk?-ji, Nagano you find one of the oldest buddhist temples of Japan, built in the 7th century. The site remains one of the last religious pilgrimages of the country, and many of the locals are very interesting to photograph.

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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