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Finely orchestrated chaos

“Finely orchestrated chaos”, or as I like to call it, “Tsukiji Fish Market”.

Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

On Saturday I woke up at O’ dark-thirty, packed my Nikon D700 and four primes in a bag and caught a train up to Tsukji to spend a morning shooting pictures as part of a Japanorama workshop.  Due to the frenetic pace of the place (it is a fully functioning fish market) the group size was restricted to six students and two instructors.  As soon as I saw this one posted at Japanorama I rushed to sign up, knowing that the student slots would fill up fast.

For those of you you plan on going to see the Tsukiji fish market I have one word of advice.

Go early.  (OK, maybe that’s two words, but you know what I mean)

The place is a beehive of activity, and it only starts to wind down shortly before 10 a.m..

To sum the place up in a phrase I would have to choose, “finely orchestrated chaos“. Everyone and everything is in constant motion, including a lot of the fish!

The game plan was to make a couple of loops through the heart of the action, shooting short telephoto (85mm’ish) on the way in, and wide (20mm’ish) on the way out.   I was solid on the 85mm department, since I had my Nikon 85mm f1.4 with me.  But on the wide side I went a little nuts and tried using a Tamron 14mm f2.8, which turned out to be entirely too wide.  I rather quickly swapped that out for a 35mm f2 (my next widest lens).  I did shoot a few images with a 50mm, but that was the exception.  The idea was to obtain some reportage type shots through the use of these two focal lengths.  The wides to set the scene, and the telephoto to fill in the details.

This was not my first (or second, or even third) trip to Tsukiji, so adding some external structure to my shooting was a very good thing.  The tips and guidance provide by Alfie and Hunter were very much welcome as they helped open my eyes to some new ways to see and capture things.  This prevented me from falling back into my own personal comfort zone of shooting.

I definitely feel that I got a higher percentage of keepers that on my previous trips to Tsukiji.

This time I used the two extreme focal lengths

The real lesson for me was that I need a 20mm lens.  There seems to be no better focal length for dragging the shutter and getting some closeup people shots.

And there is a lot of people to see:

People hauling Styrofoam boxes on their shoulders, men pulling two wheeled carts heaped with seafood, and funny looking self-propelled three wheeled wagons that can turn on a dime and give you six cents change. (A very necessary feature in the crowded rows of fish mongers.)  The real change since my last trip to Tsukiji is that now a lot of these self-propelled carts are electric powered, so you can’t hear them coming.  You really have to keep your head on a  swivel to make sure you don’t get run over.

One thing that always strikes me about the place was just how clean it is. For a place that moves more than 5 million pounds of fish (worth nearly 30 million dollars) daily, the place has no fishy smell.

Part of the reason is that everything is so fresh. The other reason is that the place is given a very thorough cleaning at the end of each day.

5 million pounds of fish a day.

Think about that for a minute.

That is more than 10 times the volume of New York City’s Fulton Market, the largest seafood market in America.

Pretty impressive.

Tsukiji has already been reported to death on the internet so I will not try and give the whole history behind the place. Anyone interested in learning more need do nothing more that a quick google search and you will have loads of information to read.

It’s a must see for anyone who wants to get some interesting photos, as well as a snack of some of the freshest sashimi you are likely to ever come across.

FYI – I just fell off the wagon again and ordered a Canon 5D Mark II.  Soooo,  I will soon be putting my trusty 5D mark I up for sale.  The going rate for used 5D’s seems to be about $1,200, but I figure I would offer it up here first for $1,000 (plus any insured shipping costs and/or paypal fees).

If I had to guess I would say it has about 40,000 actuations on it (the 5D shutter life is rated at 100,000 actuations) and it is in very good condition.  It comes with 3 Canon batteries (all hold an excellent charge), an 8 GB memory card, and all the original odds and ends (battery charger, strap, etc.) and the original packaging/box.

It has been lovingly used by me for the past four and a half years, but selling it will help fund the Mark II, so I will have to let it go.

If anyone is interested, please let me know.  If there is no interest here I’ll be posting at the usual online photo gear selling websites.  (But I would much prefer to give a better deal to one of my regular viewers.)

ps: My heartfelt thanks go out to all of you who have been ordering prints from my Smugmug page.  Your continued purchases have helped to fund the 5D Mark II, and I will be sure to do my best to keep serving up fresh content for you all.  The video capabilities of the 5D Mark II particularly intrigue me, so expect to see some videos in the future.

For those of you in Germany, check out page 28 of the February 2010 issue of FHM.  You’ll find one of my photos there.

For those of you in Japan, pick up a copy of the Metropolis 2010 calendar, one of my photos has been used for the month of February.

Seems like February is a hot month for me…

  1. David
    January 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Just stopping by to say hello.

  2. 2yen
    January 11, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Hey David,

    I hope all is well with you.

  3. January 11, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    GAS strikes again 😉

    Congrats on the decision towards the MKII. As cheesy as it may seem, I have started to enjoy the live view function for accurate zooming and DOF control.

    Looking forward to your videos and thoughts on the MK II.


  4. 2yen
    January 11, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Hi Marco,

    Not cheesy at all. A lot of “purists” discount newer technology, claiming that the past masters never had to use it, so it has no value.

    I completely disagree. Those who came before us were constrained to a smaller set of tools, and they made do with what they had. But my guess is that most of them would have very much welcomed the ability to shoot in color, with auto-focus (at times), and auto-ISO. (And all the other features wee enjoy today)

    I especially love those that refuse to shoot anything but black and white film because they want to capture the scene as accurately and unadulterated as possible. But then you just ask them, “Soooo, YOU actually SEE in black and white?”

    I don’t have anything against people who have constrained themselves to a single medium. If that is what works for them, then they are doing the right thing. But I myself want to take full advantage of all the possibilities out there.


  5. January 12, 2010 at 4:11 am

    Congratulations for your Hot February, and … glad to see that you take such great pictures yet still manage to be humble enough to take part in others’ workshops.

    I wish we had a fish market resembling Tsukji – or at least similar to Taiwanese fish markets – here in Singapore!


  6. January 12, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Like I need another excuse to look at FHM here in Germany. Will have to head down to the shop tomorrow.

  7. David
    January 13, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    You should tell thje story of what happened on our bus ride.

  8. January 13, 2010 at 10:41 pm


    HA! I had forgotten about that! Yes, I think that would make a for a good laugh. (If I am able to get across in words just how strange/funny that was)


  9. January 13, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Nice pis again Jeff. I don’t think I’ve seen any of your fish market pics before, so it’s a nice change. I like the one with the tuna strip on the table. I think it’s one of the few in tele style. The fish meat there almost looks like stake, that’s how dark red they are! I’m drooling already!
    Oh, I still plan to come to Japan this year. Hopefully around Easter time if I can get the ticket scraped together. I’ll be staying with a friend in Nagoya when I go. Nice and close to Kyoto and Osaka. I’ve been told Nagoya itself is also quite nice. I guess I will find out!

  10. January 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    i think they moved you to april. at least, the photo for april is credited to you. noodle bar?

  11. オテモニャン
  12. January 31, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Jeff Laitila!

    How long it’s been since I’ve said hello. So much has happened for me since I first started with Sushicam in April of 2001. And it makes me so happy to see you’re still kicking and still taking photos. You have a profession that lets you do what you love in a place that’s so breathtaking as Japan.

    I. am. jealous.

    Keep on keeping on.

  13. April 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Hey what a great post! I found your information to be very useful to me! I plan on coming back to your blog. Plus I will forward your blog on to my friends. Thanks!

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