Mini Story — Why I Took This Photo — #2 (Film, Rolleiflex TLR)

Keith Chen
3 min readSep 5, 2020
Image by author.

This is part of the mini-story series where I share details on some of the photos I’ve taken. Like my other stories, it focuses more on the creative and thought processes instead of just the technical details, because I am a firm believer that your right-brain activity is equally, if not more, important than the technical aspects in photography.

Background: This is a very special photo from my collection. It is unique in several ways. First of all, it was taken by a special camera of mine— Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex, manufactured back in the WWII era. Secondly, it was taken in one of my favorite cities — Tokyo. And lastly, it is the kind of photo that not only is aesthetically pleasing but also tells a unique cultural story of the place that it was taken.

What motivated me to take the shot: I wanted to tell a story about the unique Tachigui (standing noodle shop) culture. In Japan, you will find many restaurants like this — there is no seat. You order your food from a machine, wait for your order to be ready, and then stand and eat your food. What this photo captured is a very typical Japanese office worker having his breakfast before going to work (the time was around 7am).

Equipment used: I already mentioned that this was taken by my vintage Rolleiflex film camera. It is certainly not an easy camera to use — everything is manual, it is awkward to adjust shutter speed and aperture, there is no light meter, it is hard to be sure if things are in focus, and it is a film, so you don’t know the outcome until weeks later. However, because it is hard to use, the experience of using it to take photos becomes more precious, and when you get a good result, it is priceless.

What I like about this photo: In addition to telling a culture story, this photo has many good elements from a technical perspective: (1) the leading line — I purposely placed the camera on one end of the table, so there was this exaggerated leading line pointing to the subject like an arrow. (2) the lighting was right — the light in the background was a few stops brighter than that on the object, making the gentleman stood out from the rest of the scene. (3) the subject was in focus (don’t laugh, it is not easy with an old camera like this). Not only was it in focus, but the…

Keith Chen

Photographer, Product Manager @ Google, Professor, Runner, Hiker, and World Traveler. Took photos from 50+ cities (and counting). Language : 中文 / EN