How to Photograph Shibuya Crossing

David Ishikawa

Memorial to a loyal dog and a beloved setting for any film shot in Tokyo. You may know it as Shibuya Crossing but the locals call it ザ・スクランブル The Scramble.

Finding yourself here for the first time can evoke a few emotions, and whether you are in awe or in meh, you probably want to get a photo. You might even want to do a handstand. However you go about it, I have just a few tips and pointers that might help you to get an Instagram-worthy photo.

First of all, you may not know what to expect, so give yourself some time to get your bearings and check out the crossing from various view points. If you researched ahead of time and have an image of what you want to capture then you’re ahead of the curve.

how to photograph shibuya crossing
Near Shibuya Station is where most people get their first glimpse of The Scramble. | Photo by David Ishikawa used under CC

Do you want to get a night shot or a day shot? I arrived at 5:30 pm in order to get some golden lighting and planned to stay for a few hours to get night shots as well. The lighting can cause some challenges because the buildings create a lot of shadows. If you want to avoid this, then go once the sun has begun to set, early in the morning or on an overcast day. Personally, I liked the contrasts and effects the lighting provided.


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how to photograph shibuya crossing
Jumping the start. | Photo by David Ishikawa

You can always catch salary men there, but for a better chance of seeing a large amount of the similarly-outfitted then I suggest going during a weekday. Specifically during spring or autumn when it’s not so hot. If you want to get a photo of a lot of umbrellas, then head over during the rainy season (June)—but I advise against it.

Of course you have to experience The Scramble for yourself. There is enough time to get a shot or two in the crossing but just pay attention to the crossing signals and remember there are a lot of people just trying to go about their normal business.

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how to photograph shibuya crossing
Most people are just going about their normal business. | Photo by David Ishikawa

Next, I headed over to a spot I have used before located on the second and third floors of the walk-way connecting Shibuya Station to Shibuya Mark City. This can provide an interesting vantage point of the crossing.

how to photograph shibuya crossing
Sometimes I wonder how this will even work as it looks like two armies charging. | Photo by David Ishikawa

Know your surroundings. Keep an eye on what is being displayed on the large monitors because catching that moment when everything falls into place is part luck, but mostly patience and planning.

how to photograph shibuya crossing
The window was dirty causing the light to diffuse but the image on the screen is interesting. | Photo by David Ishikawa

If you want to get the “classic” shot, then head over to Starbucks and grab yourself something to drink or eat. Be prepared to wait—a lot of folks are thinking the same thing. Although I like the vantage point to take in all the activity and people-watch, it is not the ideal place to take photos, especially at night. You are fighting both the tinted windows and the reflections from the inside lighting.



I was able to use the table to prop up my camera and get some long exposures. I normally wouldn’t recommend long exposures of people but it can work if you have some people that are stationary creating an interesting contrast.

how to photograph shibuya crossing
Selfies and fashion shoots as people stream past. | Photo by David Ishikawa

Using long exposure to catch the traffic going through the crossing was a bit hit or miss since the tint on the windows interfered a bit. I did catch a large mobile billboard passing through.

how to photograph shibuya crossing
You can see the reflection caused by the windows in this shot. | Photo by David Ishikawa

After spending my time enjoying a Strawberry Frap it was time to head home. This is also a good time to get some last minute shots as the city transforms into a glowing metropolis. There was a time when you could get a view from the 25th floor of Excel Hotel Tokyu (Shibuya Marc City), but that has become a guest-only option.

how to photograph shibuya crossing
The timeless taxi design. | Photo by David Ishikawa

The Long Shot

If you have a more telephoto lens, then you can easily grab a rather nice ariel shot of Shibuya. The photo pictured above was taken from the 11th floor of the sparkly new Hikarie building. Although the glass can sometimes be a little dirty, even if you don’t time your visit soon after window cleaning it’s still an impressive and very classic “Tokyo” view. The photo above was taken on a mere smart phone (following a Typhoon).



Summary

In summary, if you are using a digital camera then don’t worry and take a lot of photos and keep your eyes open for interesting things (cars, people, buildings). Also, there are a lot of interesting areas in Shibuya if you are willing to do a bit of exploring. If you want to see the crossing at it’s craziest, I recommend visiting during the unsanctioned Halloween party.

I used a Canon 6D with a Canon 24-70 f2.8 II processed in Lightroom. If you have some photos you want to share, just tag them with #tokyocheapo or @tokyocheapo and enjoy your time in Tokyo.

Getting The Headstand Shot

how to photograph shibuya crossingPhoto by Joseph Ward

And now a word from Chris, the headstand artist

First off,  a massive “don’t try this at home, kids” warning: running into the crossing like I did was pretty dumb and dangerous—plus I could have got myself arrested. Also headstands like this aren’t kind on your neck, and I actually have period neck pains even years after I stopped doing this.

So with that out the way, here’s the story of that famous shot!

I turned up in Shibuya for the first time, about four days into my first trip to Japan, and immediately thought, “I have to do a headstand in that crossing”. I soon spotted a fellow foreigner with a fancy Nikon photographing The Scramble. So I went straight up to him and said, “Can you take my photo…out in the crossing?” and he replied, “Sure!” right away.

So we spent the next hour trying various angles and shots. In the end, to get the ‘center of the crossing’ photo, I ran out into the middle just before the lights change to green (most Japanese people obeyed the lights back then). This sometime involved dodging taxis :/ I had to repeat it about 10 times in order to get everything perfect—the position of people, me balancing correctly, etc.

You can see one of our attempts from the alternate angle shot some chap took from the Starbucks while we were at it (lots of people were photographing us, but at the time Facebook was tiny and there was no Instagram).

In the end, the final shot coincidentally had me on the big screen (on the Starbucks building), which was a bonus—the screen periodically shows a camera view of the crossing.

Shibuya headstand Photo by Joseph Ward

Gallery of Shibuya Photos

Featured image (headstand photo) by photographer Joseph Ward.
And you can see more of Chris’s headstands here: hbm.jp

For other ideas on things to do in Shibuya, give the afore-linked article a read.

Location Map:

Name: Places mentioned in this article
Location(s): Shibuya,
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