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The Story Behind The Lady In Red

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My buddy Lukasz was on holiday, and I was back in Tokyo for three weeks to cover his shifts. One morning, I was on my way to our Tokyo Metropolis photo adventure. Just like any other morning, I arrived at Shimbashi station at 9:45 AM and waited for the day’s customer. Little did I know that this time the session was going to be exceptional… Soon we would meet the sexy lady in red!

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The Context

I know this workshop’s route very well, but things can change quickly as we continually improve and come up with new ideas. Before leaving, Lukasz showed me a few new spots he found since I had moved to Kyoto. In particular, he showed me a composition involving the frosted glass around one of the smoking areas in the street. Saul Leiter’s work, and more recently, Nick Turpin’s new book was his source of inspiration.

I quickly became fascinated with this fun exercise as I find it apropos to prove the point that photographs should suggest rather than describe. I tried many times to capture the right colors and shapes outlined by the smokers standing behind the glass. The fact that our subjects were oblivious to our endeavors made the workshop all the more exciting.

To our customers, the purpose of this shot is never clear at first, and it always takes me a while to get the point across. In the end, and after several tries, people always realize what beautiful images they can craft in such a mundane context. Today though, no discussion was necessary as a pair of slender legs sprouting from red high heels awaited us.

©Saul Leiter

The Shoot

The light on that day was abundant so from the start we had set our cameras to aperture priority. We chose F8 to guarantee a wide depth of field and better chances of having sharp focus. We favored autofocus which was going to be fast no matter what in bright light. We switched to center spot focusing because it’s easier to choose where the focus goes. Exposure metering on multi to make sure we would get a decent exposure in all condition. Just to make sure we wouldn’t have any motion blur our ISO was on auto but capped at 2000 with a shutter speed minimum of 1/250. Those settings are ideal to get sharp images in bright daylight conditions! No need to waste time fiddling around with buttons since we want our full attention on the Now.

With our radars attuned we quickly spotted the lady’s beautiful legs and the bright red color around them. We instantly crouched and aimed our lenses as close as we could, all the while trying not to look like perverts. We tried different angles keeping some of the steel walls that boxed the smoking zone thus creating a frame in the frame effect. We also paid attention to have the right balance between the parts of the subject behind the frosted glass and those sticking out.

That’s when we noticed a man casually smoking behind the lady in red. I thought: Awesome! Let’s take the power of suggestion up a notch by creating a relationship between those two people. That will give a deeper sense of story to the image. We tried several shots until we got the right timing: when the man brings the cigarette to his mouth while looking towards the lady in red. It’s as if he says: “She is smoking hot!”

©Nick Turpin


When I got back home, I was excited like a child who just got a present for Christmas. Without wasting a minute, I proudly showed my wife my newly acquired photograph. She is always the first person who gets to judge the quality of my work. The verdict was positive, so I knew I made a good catch today. I quickly imported the RAW files into Lightroom.

Tragedy! The best shot has a disturbing element that breaks the composition apart. I was so excited at the moment I had not even noticed the other woman in white next to the man. I didn’t pay attention enough, and I should have worked longer on the scene. Instead of two minutes, we could have waited until the end of the cigarette. Also, I was focusing my attention too much on my camera screen, yet at the time, the light was so harsh that I could not distinguish well what was showing on such a small display.

In the end I am still happy with my photo but I know it could have been better. Thanks to Lightroom’s editing tools, I was able to remove the lady in white out of the photo. I did that quickly and without much care before uploading the image onto Instagram. However, that fueled a debate between Lukasz and me about the limits and ethics of using post processing tools in street photography. I don’t know about you but I am willing to change my photos a lot in post processing if I feel like it. What do you think about editing street photos? An interesting subject that is worth another article altogether.

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The photo after editing the lady in white out
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