Photos & Projects

Tokyo XPan – A Cinematic View of Japan – By Mike Amos

January 3, 2021

Almost two years ago, I lost my Dad very suddenly from a heart attack. He was a huge influence on me, both in my personal life, but also professionally, instilling a work ethic and determination that helped me land my dream job that I continue to love today. However, one of the biggest influences was our shared passion for photography.

For almost two decades, Dad and two of his closest friends would take photography trips. Just hanging out together and taking photos. Not all these trips were big, some just within the same state, but others to Europe and their favorite destination, Yosemite National Park. This idea really stuck with me, so my very close friend and I, now separated across the world since I moved to Los Angeles from Melbourne, Australia, decided we would pick up the photo trip mantle for our collective 40th birthdays.

Chris and I have been friends for the better part of 30 years, meeting one another in school. It’s rare to have a friend where you don’t have to work at all on the relationship, but where even after long stretches of not seeing one another in person, can naturally slip back into a easy going, banter filled camaraderie that made the experience both extremely fun travel wise and so enjoyable to just indulge deeply in our favorite hobby of ours, photography.

It’s also the most photos I have ever taken on a trip, not having my much better half pulling me along, but with someone who wants to shoot just a few more at each location. It really makes the images add up!

   

I also shot a lot of film this trip, the first for me traveling with the XPan panoramic camera. And I have to say, many of my favorite images have come from this camera and are the feature of this article.

The more I shoot film, I am finding that I really love the look and feeling it infuses into the images over digital. There is a real warmth and nostalgia to the images. It helps me to capture the world layered with mood and style that is deliberately not one that’s a transparent recording of what I have seen, but my own vision and feeling within a moment.

It’s an interesting topic, feeling and art. It’s something I think a lot about being in both an artistic profession as an Animator on Hollywood produced feature films, and in my hobby of photography. I have been reading a lot more books and blogs about trying to say more with both parts of these creative sides to my life. Initially you spend a lot of time learning the principals and rules of the craft (stuff I won’t own up to mastering yet in my own work), but at some point you get relatively proficient at the technical aspects of creating the work and realize that for a while, initially, that was enough to inspire your passion make things move in animation, or capture images through photography.

Soon however, you need more, and that more is, for me at least, looking to capture not just the light in a scene, or the believable mechanics of Kung Fu fighting Panda, but to really inject ideas, stories, life, and feelings into your creations. To Say Something.

Ironically, I have found in both animation and photography, the very thing that helps me try to discover that personal voice (and I am in no means saying I have successfully done so), is the process and technical aspects themselves. It’s the things that take more time, that for me are more considered and handcrafted like film, can help inspire me to find ways to add that personal feeling to what I make.

   

I had been busting to go back to Japan for years. After traveling to Tokyo a number of times for work over fifteen years ago, I was due to go back. Especially since then I had really gotten back into photography, both digitally and with film.

I was so excited to shoot with the XPan in Japan. The wide angle and very uniquely cinematic perspective, I felt, would be well suited to the futuristic urban mega-metropolis of Tokyo and the peaceful beauty of Kyoto.

Armed with a number of bags of film including Kodak Ektar, Portra 400 and 800, Ilford Delta 100, Cinestill 800TX and 50D and some Japan Camera Hunter JCH 400. I couldn’t wait to explore and shoot a range of different film stocks.

Since I started shooting and rediscovering film, I have found one of the most enjoyable aspects has been trying to pair up which film would be best suited to different locations. My feeling is that you shoot film to create a look, something different and special, outside of the norm of digital. These different looks and styles can compliment and create different feelings in different locations.

For example, Kodak Portra 400, to me, is great in Los Angeles. Cinestill 50D and Ektar 100 in New York, and in Tokyo Cinestill 800T, Ektar 100 and Ilford Delta 100. This is, of course, totally subjective. But there is a color palate and a quality of light that is different in each location and I try to marry up films to go with that based on my personal preferences and looks that I am trying to capture.

The XPan camera is an extremely unique camera in itself. Shooting over almost two 35mm negatives (a roll of 36 exposures results in 21 frames), framing your subject and finding complimentary compositions is very challenging, but very rewarding.

Landscapes naturally work well, but in the city, looking for foreground and background layers helps a lot. Not being afraid of shooting vertically can create some very interesting frames that when compiled in groups of three can look amazing when printed in books.

The trip was by far one of the most fun adventures I had been on. Just getting to spend time with a good friend, eat great food, drink in cool bars and take loads of photos (and tempt each other in camera stores!). Sadly, Corona has put a hold on other plans… but we really look forward to continuing the tradition my Dad and his friends set out on in our next photo trip.

Chris pointing his camera at random things and hoping to capture something!

Mike and Chris write about their photo travels on their website, www.photobasecamp.com if you want to see more of their work.

Support & Subscribe

35mmc is free to read. It is funded by adverts. If you don't like the adverts you can subscibe here and they will disapear.

For as little as $1 a month, you can help support the upkeep of 35mmc and get access to exclusive content over on Patreon. Alternatively, please feel free to chuck a few pennies in the tip jar via Ko-fi:

Become a Patron!

Learn about where your money goes here.
Would like to write for 35mmc? Find out how here.

42 Comments

  • Reply
    Alan Withington
    January 3, 2021 at 10:24 am

    The night time photos are stunning! Beautifully written too and a pleasure to read. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 7:48 pm

      Thanks so much Alan! Really appreciate your very kind comments!

      • Reply
        Jocelyn
        January 4, 2021 at 12:37 am

        Amazing photographs

  • Reply
    Michael J
    January 3, 2021 at 10:32 am

    Hi Mike. Thanks for posting the photos, and a very personal account of where they came from.
    I was thinking about how they were some of the most interesting pics from an XPAN that I had seen and was asking myself why that was, and had decided that they had a wonderful cinematic quality to them: stills from a pre-digital age, but with the detail and eye of a photograph. Then I read that this is your ‘day-job’!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 7:51 pm

      Thanks you so much Michael. So nice to hear you enjoyed them! I like to think that working on super wide screen movies gives me a little bit of eye for this format. Its been a long learning curve though, I took a lot of terrible, cut off and strange images when I first got this camera! Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Martin
    January 3, 2021 at 10:53 am

    The pics in the dark alley reminded me of the Netflix series Midnight Diner (Tokyo Stories). Also interesting to read was that you prefer different films for different cities.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 7:55 pm

      Thanks Martin! I binge watched a lot of Midnight Diner – Tokyo before the trip to get me into the mood! Once we can, I can’t wait to go back. The film / location pairing thing is something I kinda stumbled upon when experimenting with lots of films in downtown Los Angeles. I found myself returning to a few locations and wondered why some shots I liked much more than others and decided that each place has their own film / look. So now whenever I travel I try to work out what the pairing is for me. Thanks again for comment and taking a look at the photos!

  • Reply
    Rock
    January 3, 2021 at 11:34 am

    Wow, some amazing photos Mike!

  • Reply
    Nik Stanbridge
    January 3, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Mike, fantastic photos and narrative. As I emerged, like you from learning the craft and the technical aspects of photography, especially film, I too was troubled with inspiration and the notion of “what am I trying to say?”. Especially when wanting to group photographs and create a narrative. My solution was to stop reading about technique, and to start looking at other work of other photographers. And thus a photo book collection was born. And then came the creation of a few of my own (albeit in editions of one). Your photos and trips(s) are an inspiration.

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks so much Nik! It sounds like we have both been on a similar journey with photography and the use of photo books. I recently printed an edition of two (one for Chris and I) from our trip to Japan (just my photos, his were not much chop – I kid Chris, I kid!). But I have found having the photo book in mind whilst traveling really makes you think and look for certain types of images and a narrative for the book project when you return. Great to hear you are doing the same, and there is nothing better than seeing printed images rather than just on screen. Thanks again!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 8:03 pm

      Nik! I just looked at your website and loved your film images. The Flooded Field series is so beautiful. The combination of the film grain and the very subtle layers are just wonderful. Those printed on really nice Canson matt paper would be amazing. Great stuff!

      • Reply
        Nik Stanbridge
        January 4, 2021 at 8:44 pm

        My turn to say thanks to you Mike! For me the subject and grain are a perfect match.

  • Reply
    Herbert
    January 3, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    Some beautiful and indeed cinematic shots!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 8:00 pm

      Thank you so very much Herbert! 🙂

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    January 3, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    Mike,
    An XPan, Japan and a thoughtful, well written article…what’s not to like.
    I enjoyed how you select favourite films for different cities and that choice must be one of the advantages of film over digital.
    Your web site is also well worth visiting.
    Thanks and happy travelling.
    Dave

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 8:10 pm

      Dave! Thanks so much for your comment.
      I am not sure if the idea of pairing locations to film is unique to me, but it was not something I really had thought of until experimenting with different films in a location I love in downtown Los Angeles. I found certain films captured more of a specific look that I was going for within that place and it got me thinking about if there is a film pairing for each location… so its a fun little project when traveling or whilst researching my travels to try and work out what I think will marry together well.
      And thanks for checking out Photo Basecamp! Its been a great focus for Chris and I, especially during the lockdowns and pandemic to give further purpose to our photos and travels.

  • Reply
    mike tynan
    January 3, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    mike, great article…likely you know of him….if not look up the work of Kosti Ruohomaa

    disney animator/photographer par excellence.

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks so much Mike! I do know the work of Kosti Ruohomaa – but more from his Disney days and less the photos. I have been spending the morning checking out all of his amazing work. Thanks again for the great inspiration!

      • Reply
        Dave
        January 4, 2021 at 2:19 pm

        The vertical photos are just awesome. Great series.

        • Reply
          Mike Amos
          January 4, 2021 at 5:40 pm

          Thanks so much Dave! I spent weeks prior to the trip reading through your site for inspiration! Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Denis Markell
    January 3, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    Really beautiful work. Funny that you work in animation – I think it shows in your ability to fill the frame with just the right amount of interest, especially in Kyoto.
    Also, the old Sake shop (or whatever that is, with the vintage bicycle) could have come directly from a Miyazaki film. The pastel colors, the sense of history, the collection of machines and windows, etc. I’m not so sure about the reflection of the buff dude with the camera in the window… 🙂
    Nice job!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks Denis! I am a big Miyazaki fan and many of those laneways felt lifted right from one of his films.
      haha! I hoped nobody would notice the not at all buff guy in the window with the camera. I only noticed it myself after scanning the photo!!
      Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Simon
    January 3, 2021 at 7:03 pm

    Some of the best XPan work I’ve seen! Really excellent execution with the wider frame, and a great selection presented here!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 3, 2021 at 8:17 pm

      Wow! Thanks so much Simon! Really appreciate the very kind comment.
      I checked out your site, and love your work. That image of the pier with the birds and the boat is just wonderful.
      Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Phil Snaps
    January 4, 2021 at 10:45 am

    Fantastic pictures, and at the risk of sounding like a parrot: some of the best I have seen from an Xpan in a long while. There is a cult for the Xpan these days, with many pictures posted on the interwebs, but few have mastered the art of framing with such a wide view. It is indeed difficult, it takes time and practice to relearn how to see.
    One thing I noticed with wide formats it that it is initially tempting to shoot perpendicular to a subject in a need to fill the frame. A nice horizontal building? Boom, perpendicular shot, fills the frame, done. And it can be very nice, but can get tiresome. It is a kind of viewer’s dead-end, the eyes have nowhere to go. Add perspective, and so much more happens in the frame with backgrounds and secondary subjects.
    Your street pictures have such great long perspectives, deep, full of life. You really get the most of that wide format. I can see how working on feature films may help for framing, and at the same time I believe in photography it is a very different skill. Movies really work as sequences, very few frames actually stand out in isolation as they rarely need to tell multiple things at once. In your pictures here you beautifully encapsulated slices of life in single frames.

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 5, 2021 at 5:07 am

      Thanks so much Phil for the very thoughtful comment. Really appreciate it!
      I have thought about it too, the influence of my day job on the use of the XPAN, and agree with you that movies do move in sequences. But I think animation is unique in that way, as we have to craft each frame. I often spend hours on a single frame, for example, Toothless, positioning him so that the shape of the body, the eyeline, the curve of the wings and tail etc etc all help to lead the viewer back to the focal point. After seeing my work in IMAX I quickly realized a distracting detail in the corner of frame suddenly pulls the viewers head across the giant screen. So I think this obsessiveness to tell a story, clearly and with a flow that guides the viewer through the frame and pulls that back, hopefully, to the point of interest has been a big influence. Anyway, thats what I will tell myself!! Thanks again!

      • Reply
        Phil Snaps
        January 5, 2021 at 4:06 pm

        Oh very good points, thank you for for this glimpse of your process! I somehow misunderstood what you actually do, I imagined it as “CGI inserted in movies with real actors”. Computer animated movies are indeed different, I guess you have more freedom to place things and frame any way you want, all without bumping into real walls. The obsessiveness is very relatable, at such a job I would likely fall into a never-ending analysis-paralysis spiral 🙂
        In a way you get to create the decisive moment, instead of waiting for it with photography:)

  • Reply
    Kevin Ortner
    January 4, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    You have a wonderful eye for this format.

    The sentiment of your trip is truly touching and inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 4, 2021 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks so much Kevin!! It was one of the most fun trips I have been on. Having a good friend to take photos made it amazing.

  • Reply
    JON E BERLIN
    January 5, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    Fantastic read and wonderful photos!

  • Reply
    Peggy
    January 6, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Great photos. They do capture Tokyo very well. I lived in Tokyo for 4 years and recognise most of the locations. It was nice seeing them again. I miss Yodobashi and their selection of film and developing service.

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 7, 2021 at 12:15 am

      Thanks a lot for your comment! I LOVED Yodobashi and their film selection… I did go a little nuts in there! So many great camera stores in Tokyo. Chris and I visited and spent a lot there! 😀

  • Reply
    Jeremy Lock
    January 30, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    What lenses did you use?
    I still have an Xpan with the three Xpan lenses but have not used it for a long time.
    Maybe I should!

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 31, 2021 at 10:00 pm

      I only have the 45mm lens – you have to get yours out again!!

  • Reply
    Jerry
    January 30, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    Actually if You ready to handle some critic, everyone with some basic art educaction know specific of traditional japanese architecture,
    contemporary Japan is something more, and it’s really genuine, just check out Tokyo on Google Street View.
    I see some of it in this picture https://www.35mmc.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/scan1006-1536×564-1.jpg and this
    https://www.35mmc.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/scan1164-1536×560-1.jpg

  • Reply
    Richard Newland
    January 31, 2021 at 12:29 am

    Very beautiful photographs. Thank you for sharing. Some of the scenes reminded me of Blade Runner movie.

    • Reply
      Mike Amos
      January 31, 2021 at 10:00 pm

      Thank you! Yes! Japan mixed with the Cinestill film and this format very much has that feeling!

  • Reply
    José A. Pacheco
    January 31, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    Fantastic images! Love them and made me feel very nostalgic from those days when I owned a Xpan. Such a great camera with endless possibilities. I look forward to seeing more wonderful images from you in the near future

  • Reply
    Richard
    February 1, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    Unbelievably beautiful. It’s like the pictures were incubating in your brain for the 15 years you were absent from Japan and all you had to do was push the shutter.

    By the way, if Cinestill 800T, Ektar 100 and Ilford Delta 100 are your Tokyo films, what would you use out in the countryside?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.