Lukasz Palka, a Polish travel photographer currently residing in Tokyo, embarked on a photo series aiming to document the more intricate details of such a gigantic metropolis. We chatted with him to find out more about his thought process throughout the project.
So why Tokyo? Every city has a lot to offer, but Palka landed on Tokyo because of what he describes as “little pockets” located throughout the city. Having never visited, he informs me Tokyo is effectively several cities, or “downtowns,” within one. As he puts it, there are “interesting little moments and stories happening within a greater context.” The neon-drenched nightlife, unique balance between tradition and modernity, and endless urban scenery make Tokyo a haven for travel photographers and an apt location for the shoot. The series’ images range from the crowds of Shibuya Crossing to the heights of Mori Tower, via Buddhist monks and the street life of Tokyo. Ready to begin the photo series, Palka equipped himself with a Nikon D5, D500, and D7500, plus the following telephoto and zoom lenses:
- AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR
- AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
- AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
- AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR
The next step was deciding what and who to include in the series. Initially overwhelmed with potential ideas, Palka knew to some degree he wanted to include people. Feeling that youth culture such as the world-famous harajuku and cosplay styles was already oversaturated, he eventually settled on the elder generation. Everyone from workers to monks were to be the focus of the series.
“As a travel photographer I’m looking for robust and versatile equipment that ensures I can capture a range of shots from just one camera body and lens,” said Palka. “Tokyo offers a huge variety of potential shots, and each of the four lenses I used on this shoot gave me the scope to cut through the chaos of this incredible city and isolate the key elements that make it so special. The resulting images reflect my passion; giving people an insight into this iconic metropolis from a different perspective.”
Palka cites the 24-120mm as his favorite lens of the bunch. He was already a fan of it for his previous personal works, quoting its sharpness, nice range, f-stop of 4, and high performance of ISO as highlights. This was the lens he used for most of the “Cutting Through the Chaos” series.
In the beginning, he enjoyed shooting predominantly with long focal lengths, in line with his creative background as a street photographer favoring wider lenses. Notably more experimentation ensued as the project developed. He quickly honed in on a visual style, consisting of long shots, compressed, with the geometry more flat.
With so many of the images taken at night, I had to ask about shooting in low light. Palka told me only one of the images were taken with a tripod. The rooftop shot (above), was an 8-second exposure. As for the Tokyo tower shot, tripods were banned and instead Palka had to style it out balancing on a railing. For that shot he wanted zero noise. Choosing to photograph it from the roof of the nearby Mori Tower, he went for the D5 and AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, waiting for an evening with a gorgeous blue hour and the city enveloped in a haze. This way the warm tones of Tokyo Tower contrast nicely with the ghostly blue hues of the city. His specs for the shot were 50mm, f/8, 2 sec, ISO 100.
So what would be Palka’s advice for any aspiring travel and documentary photographers?
- The most important thing he recommends is to have a goal in mind. “It’s easy to show up and just try figure it out,” he said. “You need to have some idea of what you want to create in terms of subject and rough framing.”
- Pack light. Bring as little as possible to be versatile. Prime lenses can be great as well, but limiting in the same sense. He advises not to bring more than one body and two lenses, if possible.
- Walk as much as possible. “If you just wander into the distance you’re going to come across things that other people will never find,” he said.
For the series, Palka teamed up with Nikon who released the collection of images to correspond with their 100th birthday. The images showcase the capability of Nikon’s all around zoom and telephoto lenses to isolate specific detail amid confusion and commotion.
Check out more of Palka's work on his website.