Shooting to Edit: Playing with Photoshop Filters in Tokyo

Street photography has never been easy for me, which is probably why I love it so much. I love the challenge and resulting growth that it provides. In a cityscape, I'm not only looking to create something out of nothing, but often nothing out of something as well. A mega-city like Tokyo, for instance, is packed full of various colors and shapes. I found that this ocular chaos was reflected in the images I was taking. My goal in a cityscape is to find moments of peace amongst the chaos because I personally find that dichotomy to be both visually and ideologically compelling. I struggled to find such moments in Tokyo outside of the tourist attractions like the Meiji Shrine or Sensoji Temple, and I had little desire to focus all of my energy on such destinations. Instead, I wanted to create something extraordinary out of what would normally be considered mundane, like a street corner, pedestrian crossing, taxi, etc.

After struggling to create such serenity through the wires, billboards, and crowds of Tokyo, I thought of a new approach. If I can't find moments like these naturally, can I create them artificially?

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新宿

I found my solution in the post-production process. Through selective-color editing, I was able to direct the attention in my images to the subtle vibrancies of Tokyo. I am forcing the eye to focus on, for instance, a taxi, a pagoda, or a bridge. I want the viewer to unpack the city and admire its finer details, the ones I fell in love with during my stay. By simplifying the content of the photographs, I found it easier to focus on the subjects, like a man walking beside a train.

The process was incredibly simple. All I did was drop an image into Photoshop and open up the 'Hue/Saturation' menu. I then moved through each color profile within that menu and decided which color I wanted to keep. Finally, while leaving the chosen color's saturation at 0, I completely desaturated the others. After saving and exporting, I had my image.

When I first tried this technique, I was using images I had shot the previous day. After experimenting with a large range of old shots, I was ready to shoot the following morning. When my friends and I explored Akihabara the next day, I found that the way I looked at my surroundings had changed. In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense. When shooting, I always try to see the world as if it was through a viewfinder so that  I can plan and frame shots in my head long before I take them. On this particular afternoon, I was looking at the colors of buildings, cars, signs, clothes, and food, trying to visualize what different scenes would look like if I was working in Photoshop.

What defining colors were present? What shapes or subjects did the colors emphasize? Was there enough of one color to fill the image? Was I shooting a wide variety of colors or focusing too much on one throughout the day? These were all questions that played on my mind as I shot to edit.

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漫画

Manga is a widely popular variety of literature. Although it has a foothold in the United States, it is massive in Japan. Every bookstore will feature a section dedicated to manga. By appearance, it looks like a comic book on psychedelics. I wanted to pay tribute to this art style by editing images of my own to look as if they could appear in a manga.

Nowhere to go

Compared to selective-color editing, this process was technically much easier but required more experimentation. All I did when editing these images was place Photoshop filters on them from the 'Filter Gallery' menu. I simply used the filters 'Torn Edges' and 'Stamp' and their sliders to adjust the contrast and lighting of the photographs.

In the past, I had never been a fan of harsh editing practices. I always wanted to uphold the reality of my photographs and anything that could compromise that honesty was never welcomed in my portfolio. The idea of throwing a filter on an image seemed like taking the easy route. It almost looked like cheating. Over time, however, I've come to realize that this was a limiting belief. By using these edits, I was able to tell stories I never could have told before. I crafted fantasy worlds that were based on aspects of the real but deviated into the imaginary. I had access to a toolbox for storytelling that I had never even considered before, and I loved it.

Raindrops

What I found was that, as opposed to the selective-color edits, the filters emphasized the shapes, symbols, patterns, and textures of the scene. Color became completely irrelevant. At this point in the trip, I started to look through the city for both selective color scenes and black and white abstractions. Through practice, I trained myself to look for both edits interchangeably as I walked through Tokyo, a difficult feat in a city so tall, wide, and condensed. The result was a collection of images that represented both the colorful vibrancy and the architectural brilliance of the Japanese capital.

. . .

Hiroshima: Seventy-Three Years After the Bomb

It was a gloomy Tuesday morning when we arrived at the train station in Hiroshima. After getting off the bullet train, we met our local guide and started our tour through the city. Our first location was Carp Castle, erected by Mori Terumoto, a powerful lord in feudal Japan. The carp is an important symbol in Japan and is especially popular in Hiroshima, whose baseball team is named after it. The fish stands for strength and determination, as it is famous for swimming against the current.

The drive to the castle brought us through a diverse and beautiful city. Hiroshima was built upon a river delta and has grown into a city with a heritage important not only to its prefecture but to all of Japan. After our tour of the castle, it became clear that many of the residents of Hiroshima are proud of their vibrant ancient history. However, as we passed by a collection of stone shrines and other historical relics, I couldn’t help but remember that they are not the original structures. Like the vast majority of the buildings in the city, they had to have been built or restored in the last 73 years. There was an elephant in the room that had to be addressed. It was the reason we were there, after all.

広島城
広島城

At 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945, a U.S. Army B-29 bomber known as the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was the first time in human history that the weapon had ever been used outside of testing. It detonated around 600 meters above the hypocenter, striking the city with blast wind, radiation, and heat rays of approximately 5,000 to 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The city was decimated and an estimated 140,000 people lost their lives. The aftermath was devastating as people burned to death in the streets and black rain fell from the sky. A poem from survivor Akiko Takakura goes:

Black, black rain.

Huge drops.

People craned their neck

To the sky

With their mouth wide open.

Hot bodies, so very hot,

They wanted water.

It started to rain lightly as we made our way past the Atomic Bomb Dome, which stands as a somber reminder of that horrific day. There was something so haunting about the remaining shell of the building, something surreal about the mangled metal and burned stone. We kept walking and soon found ourselves within the Peace Park, a place of beautiful symbolism. One such symbol is a fire said to stay burning until the world is rid of all its nuclear weapons. It is sadly called the "eternal flame.” Next came the museum, the part of the tour that struck me the most. We strolled through exhibit after exhibit, astounded and horrified by the images and voices around us. One room showed photographs of Hiroshima before and after the bombing. In this exhibit, there was a video display of the bombing being projected onto a circular miniature map of Hiroshima. As I began to watch, a group of young Japanese students walked in and filled the space opposite of me. The video showed a colorful, bustling city full of life and commerce. Then a bomb started to fall. It detonated above the city, turning everything in sight into a black and white heap of rubble. There I was, an American standing across from a group of young Japanese children, watching an American bomber turn a Japanese city to ruin. What I felt wasn’t exactly personal guilt, it was something much more complex. I felt out of place, like I shouldn’t have been there. But at the same time it felt absolutely crucial to be standing there, witnessing what happened and learning about the devastation from ground zero.

During the tour, I asked our guide what the perception of Americans was for the people of Hiroshima after this tragedy. She said that in the days that followed, the survivors had no time to think about the war. All they wanted to do was get back to their normal lives and find their loved ones. There was no time for hatred. As the weeks went by, more and more Western organizations and individuals, many from the United States in particular, went to Hiroshima and brought food, water, and things to help the kids. They helped rebuild the city. It was then that many survivors realized that the propaganda their government had been feeding them about Americans, the demons on earth, was false.

Strangely, that was the first moment the United States had been mentioned between us. The entirety of the tour had been based around the effects of the bomb and hope for a better future. The United States wasn’t even mentioned until near the end of the tour, where there stood a section about WWII history for those interested. The bombing of Hiroshima was spoken of as if it was a natural disaster: a bomb was dropped and an entire city was destroyed. At the museum, it isn’t recognized as an act of merciless violence from one country against the civilian population of another. The bombing is seen as a disaster of human nature. The city stands as an example of the dangers of nuclear weaponry and lives as a reminder that such a disaster should never happen again.

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That was what I found to be the most powerful aspect of the museum. It wasn’t about the violence between the Americans and the Japanese. It wasn’t about governments hating each other, with one bombing the other’s territory. It was about people killing other people and how wrong that is, not just at the scale of an atomic bomb attack but on any scale. There is a unity that has been created here, at ground zero, in the hope for a denuclearized future. It’s a hope that transcends borders.

. . .

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        I visited Hiroshima in the months before the meeting scheduled to take place in Singapore between President Donald Trump and DPRK Leader Kim Jong-un, when this issue of denuclearization was once again a massive talking point on the world stage. The issue remains prevalent today and there are many questions still to be answered. Is it possible for humans to ever live in a world without these weapons again? Is it possible for the governments of the world to trust each other enough to stop stockpiling enough firepower to wipe entire countries off the face of the earth? I’m not sure. What I do know is that the ruins of the Hiroshima bombing still stand as proud and solemn monuments of the direction humans can take the world if they aren’t careful.

Words and images by Luke Netzley

Why Tokyo Is My Favorite City in the World

Tokyo is a city bursting with color and life. From the quiet ramen shops to the hectic Shibuya Crossing, there is something here for everyone. Tokyo is a massive city full of diverse areas. For instance, Akihabara sits as a center for anime and pop culture just two stops on the train from Ueno, an area home to many ancient Buddhist temples.

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My group and I rented a small apartment in Harajuku, a perfect place for the four of us. Looking out of our window, we could see clusters of high school students chatting away in their matching white uniforms. They were most likely bound for the nearby Takeshita Street, a hub for Japanese pop culture and one of the most energetic places in Tokyo. Later in the night, university students would gradually join the crowd. After all, Harajuku is home to the College of Art and Beauty, a beautifully-simplistic building nestled into the quiet backstreets and tightly packed residencies of this modern neighborhood.

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原宿

Takeshita Street offers visitors a plethora of desserts and souvenirs to choose from. The road is densely packed with people and shops. Some larger buildings contain winding maze-like passages and courtyards, offering dinner, drinks, and trinkets to visitors.

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If you walk the other direction from Takeshita Street, you will find a much more peaceful atmosphere. A forest of 100,000 trees arises from behind the tall buildings of the bustling cityscape. The entrance to the famed Meiji Shrine is a giant torii, a Shinto religious symbol. Guests to the shrine walk beneath the entrance gate at its sides, for the center is reserved for the kami, spirits of nature worshipped by followers of Shintoism. Vast areas of natural beauty, majestic holy structures, and shaded areas for resting make up the grounds of the Meiji Shrine.

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新宿

Shinjuku is my favorite area of the city due to its harmonic blend of historic destinations, such as the famed Piss Alley, and modern creations, like the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

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There were moments in Tokyo when the world seemed to pause. They were few and far between in one of the most populated cities on Earth, but that only made their occurrence that much more noticeable and special. A moment that stuck with me was when my friends and I dipped into a dessert cafe to escape the summer rain. I wiped away the fog on the windows an watched the neon signs of Akihabara dance outside. We waited for the storm to pass in the warmth of the cafe, the smell of baked bread wafting through the room. On another day, we went to a hole-in-the-wall ramen bar that was around the corner from the Apple store in Shinjuku. The small restaurant was welcoming and its food was delicious. Tokyo is full of happy moments waiting to be found.

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Beloved by tourists, the Mario Kart street tours are a common sight in popular areas of the city.

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汐留

The Shiodome skyline lies within the Minato area of Tokyo. This is where my Dad spent his time in the city while here for business. The entire area caters well to visiting businessmen, with the Hamarikyu Gardens and Tokyo Bay sitting a short walk away from the massive skyscrapers. For my companions, the Shiodome area servers as a spectacle of modern architecture and contemporary beauty. I, on the other hand, felt consumed in the dizzying landscape.

Overall, I loved my time in Tokyo. It is a paradise for explorers and aims to please even the most jaded of travelers. The growing city is filled with incredible views, delicious food and interesting people. What I enjoyed most about the city is its mix of unique and vibrant cultures, all coexisting to produce a remarkable unity between the old and the new.

. . .

Eric (center), Derek (right), and I standing in front of the entrance to the Meiji Shrine.
Eric (center), Derek (right), and I standing in front of the entrance to the Meiji Shrine.